RSS

Tag Archives: university

Image

PhD Graduation! (unofficial!)

I got my PhD! But I can’t afford the flights back to the University of Sheffield to graduate properly. So we did our own outside the Leg here in Regina.
Model: Annabel Townsend,
Bespoke Coffee Bean Mortarboard by Rachel Chapman Millinery,
Gown from Bedsheet by Claire Terrill,
Coffee bean dress: model’s own.

DSCF5237DSCF5235(1)

Now, what on earth do I do next????

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

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

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A positive little Meme

I survived the Viva.

So, I can more-or-less claim DOCTOR-hood!
Not quite the bestest bestest result I could have hoped for but it’ll do for now. They did like the thesis, and the viva exam went a lot better than I’d expected. It was lovely to meet Eric Laurie finally, whose stuff I’ve been quoting on and off for the past few years! And it wasn’t actually an interrogation, just quite an intense chat. Can’t say I enjoyed the experience but it certainly wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

But, inevitably, I have a few corrections to do, and because I’m emigrating and everything, they decided to be helpful and give me a year to do all these minor revisions. Which means I am not completely shot of it yet! gah!

More disappointingly, it means I was not technically awarded the doctorate on the day. Close but no cappuccino. They were very complimentry about it, saying it was an enjoyable read, and interestingly, that I could get my Ethics chapter published as a standalone paper, without too much editing. This surprised me because I wasn’t actually that pleased with that chapter, but I am sorely tempted to do it just because it is such a controversial topic. The comments I received on this blog alone are testament to that!

My revisions are not too bad either – setting out my arguments more clearly at the beginning of each chapter, yet more bloody references about ‘gender divisions of labour’ in the Skills section, even down to putting subheadings in my literature review.  Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t take too long at all, and if I can find a babysitter occasionally, I would probably manage it in 3 months anyway! But given that Miri is trying to climb on the keyboard and watch Cookie Monster sing Lady Gaga on Youtube as I type this blog, trying to concentrate on these sorts of edits is virtually impossible!!

But, it’s so bloody close.  I shall stay positive.

 

And now I need to change her nappy. Gotta go, dear reader(s)! I shall leave you with this:

My favourite little meme of the week

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

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!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Penny Universities

I admit it, I miss university. I could quite happily moulder unspecifically in academia forever, and it is quite depressing that, after maternity leave, I’ve only got a few short months left. In that sense, there is no real incentive to finish this PhD. Nevertheless, being pinned to the sofa by a hungry little baby makes life a little…inactive, shall we say, so I am still reading avariciously and typing one-handed. And guess what? I am still fantasising about my own coffee shop (as a more practical alternative to a career in academia).

A seventeenth century London coffee house

A seventeenth century London coffee house

These fantasies, along with genuine interest and the need to pad out my background chapter on coffee history, has led to reading a lot about the 17th century coffee shops in Britain. I like this a lot. Coffee first reached London in around 1650 and became extremely popular, with coffee houses offering an alternative to taverns. Most were laid out with a coffee bar at one end (but plenty of waitresses often of dubious reputation!) and long benches to sit at, forcing strangers to sit next to each other. Unsurprisingly, this led to a breaking down of rank and social hierarchy if only within the coffee house, and people, well, men, began “free and open debates” – or in other words, plenty of informed but caffeinated arguing. It is a fairly well known legend that Lloyds of London started out as a coffee shop, with merchants meeting in it to conduct their trades. But there were other now famous institutions that also had coffee origins. Coffee houses in different places had particular themes – the ones around the theatres attracted the ‘wits’ and critics and poets and so on, the coffee shops near the printers were filled with the pamphleteers and the ones near the schools were where they scientists hung out. The Royal Society was originally founded by three men who met and formed “The Chemical Club” in a coffee shop in Oxford, and they’d perform scientific experiments in public in the coffee shops.

“In the coffee houses men of science, learning and scholarship found they had unprecedented access to all kinds of knowledge: commercial, literary, mechanical, theological. Unlike the narrow confines of the Schools, whether university, church or club, the coffee house opened the whole world of learning to the clientele. To a seventeenth century mind, entering a coffee house was like walking into the internet.” (Ellis, 2004:158)

And so, the Penny University was born. As well as being referred to by coffee fans as ‘penny universities’ or “the free school of ingenuity”, they were also called by their critics “a poseur’s paradise.” Nothing changes. Many people nowadays, myself included still sit in coffee shops for hours, now equipped with laptops but still attempting to look intellectual. We just use internet forums to rant on rather than striking up conversation with anyone else in the room, which is quite sad really. Some things that have changed for the better are a.) the coffee and b) the clientele.

Moll king

Moll King - my new role model

This was a looooong time before espresso machines and even before anyone thought to filter the stuff. The coffee in 1670’s London was at best, Turkish style, as in, roasted in a pan over a fire, ground up roughly then boiled in water, thus improving the safety of the water but often producing a drink that looked, smelled and tasted like soot. And quite possibly cut with charcoaled weevil, since it was transported from the colonies by boat. Also, the coffee houses were exclusively populated by men. Women could serve in them but did not attend and were not privy to the cheap education on offer there. Somewhat bizarrely though, they were allowed to own them. The most famous coffeehouse madam was Moll King, and King’s Coffee House was extremely popular but not necessarily because of her coffee….

There were other similarities to modern universities too:

“in we went, where a packet of muddling muckworms were busy as so many rats in an old cheese-loft, some going, some coming, some scribbling, some talking, some drinking,…and the whole room stinking of tobacco like a dutch barge or a boatswain’s cabin.”

Now, doesn’t that sound like undergraduate halls of residence?

penny

The offending cafe

I like the idea of Penny Universities a great deal. What better name for a coffee shop run by someone with a PhD in coffee?! But, alas, these things are not patented as soon as the thought arrives in my head. And sadly, a modern day Penny University already exists. It is a coffee shop in London. And it is run by a certain Mr James Hoffman.
Sorry jimseven but I won’t be visiting.
(*blows raspberries very maturely*)

 
5 Comments

Posted by on August 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Great Coffee Taste Test

… was absolutely exhausting. Which is my excuse for only getting round to writing about it now.

The Premise?

Get two coffees, one “good quality”, one less so. Get as many people as possible to try them. Find out if people preferred the high quality or not.

The Venue?

Last week, taking over what currently passes for the ‘Cafe’ on C-floor of the Geography Department, University of Sheffield.

The  partipants?

Simon from Pollards Coffee Company and I, manning the espresso machine, and over 100 willing participants from the (mainly geography) students and staff. Not exactly coffee gourmets, but certainly plenty of addicts (I quote: “I’d be on drip if I could plug it in”)

If only it were that simple!!

This experiment was not a full-proof design anyway, but a few things ‘distracted’ from the scientific precision, shall we say.

cafe

The New C floor "cafe". Ahem.

The venue served us pretty well once Simon had lugged the Fraccino espresso machine up in the lift and plugged everything in. There (as yet) is no furniture in the cafe, so there was very little for our participants to sit on, let alone write out our reply slips on whilst holding two cups of coffee…. but not the end of the world. However, although I had arranged to hold the taste test on Tuesday and Wednesday several weeks ago, it was left until Monday until someone informed us that there was a department open day on the Wednesday, who also wanted to use the space. Great! I thought. More people! Sadly, no, they all appeared at 4pm, just as we were packing up. A few rather lost looking parents-of-prospective-students appeared though, looking for the department cafe… and only found us. We were of course, happy to oblige but methinks for the sake of the geography department in general, it would have been wise to build and furnish the cafe first, and then put the signs up to it…. And I can suggest someone very willing to take over the space and run it as a cafe properly, by the way... hint hint.

But ANYWAY.

In terms of research design, we had tried to keep the experiment as simple as possible. We gave our participants the sort of coffees they asked for,  cappuccinos, americanos, etc. because we wanted to test the average coffee drinker, drinking what they normal would in a coffee shop. We hoped this would give a more accurate picture of how people taste coffee – the differences should still be apparent even with added milk and sugar etc. If they are not, this is still significant because it implies that it would not matter what sort of coffee goes into a cappuccino, if people are just drinking them for the milky flavours. Also, we were likely to get far more participants this way, than if we forced them all to drink espressos. However, it does leave it open to flaws in the consistancy of our drink construction though – we may well have added more milk or foamed one better than the other or screwed up the espresso at times etc etc etc. Not a highly accurate test in this sense!

setup

Simon setting up.

The biggest test for us though, was how to define ‘quality’ in the first place. A very large proportion of my whole thesis revolves around this issue! Simon helped a great deal here by basically using his knowledge of roasting and then absolving us of responsibility for defining quality. He chose three coffees for an espresso blend, that had all rated very highly on the Speciality Coffee Association of American’s cupping scale. Then, he got three more lots of beans from farms very close by to these first three, but had not been rated by the SCAA. Another factor was the price. The SCAA-rated blend would have cost £12 a kilo, the other, £3 a kilo. Was the ‘higher quality’ one really four times better? Pollards people roasted both sets of beans identically and on the same day, so there was as little variation in the roast as possible. All was set!

We both did this test blind – the beans arrived in bags marked A and B, and we had two grinders, also marked similarly. We then marked all the cups before giving them to our guinea-pigs.  Neither of us knew which blend was which as we made the coffees (although Simon worked it out pretty quickly!), so we couldn’t unconsciously make one coffee better than the other and so on. This is a further issue regarding quality. Quality is not just an inherent characteristic of the green bean – it also depends on the roast and the skills of the barista (amongst other things). We could just about controi these variables, so hopefully all we were testing were the difference in quality of the beans themselves. Complicated, though!

barista

Moi as experimental barista and bemused guinea-pig

guineapigs

More caffeinated guinea pigs.

The Results?

Pretty evenly split!!!

This is a fascinating result and is already causing controversy at Pollards and with Simon’s suppliers. I am not going to put the exact figures on here – I am still waiting for some responses anyway, but mainly because we want to put together a proper paper about this for academic and hopefully some trade journals. For simplicity’s sake, there was no significant difference between the number of people preferring Coffee A to Coffee B. There were a very few people who couldn’t tell the difference at all, but not nearly as many of these as I had thought there might be. If anything, there was a very very tiny skew towards a preference for A, but not enough to make definite assertations.

B was the SCAA rated, high quality blend, worth four times the price of A.

I’ll let Simon explain the origins of Coffee B:

“The El Salvador is La Avila Estate, which came 5th in the 2009 Cup of Excellence awards with a score of 89.43. It is a fantastic cup on its own in a filter of cafetiere but is it worth 4 times more than the standard SHG from the farm next door?
The Brazil was a Daterra Special reserve coming in with a score of 85.5 last year. It is the Catuai varietal and again is fantastic on its own in a filter. But again is it worth the extra?
The monsoon was specially prepared for me by a neighbours estate, Ratnagiri, in Chikmagalur. It costs just the same , but, unlike me he is very good at producing exceptional quality green coffee. This does not carrry an SCAA rating but does have the indian coffee boards gold medal for last year…. “

Coffee A came from neighbouring farms in El Salvador, Brazil and India, but did not have these accolades (a fact which could be used to advocate the idea of ‘terroir coffee’ and geographical indicators… but that is a whole other chapter!).

And roughly half our participants (including me, to my surprise) preferred the cheaper, unrated Coffee A.

What does this actually mean?

Because it was such an even split, I can’t conclude that people actually prefer cheaper, supposedly lower quality coffee, because an equal number did prefer the high quality one. Judging by the comments on the day though, no-one really thought that B was worth four times as much as A.  The overriding conclusion, however, is that Quality and Preference are NOT the same thing. In short, and within reasonable parameters, (ie: not mouldy, not stale, not burnt) the quality of the beans is not a real factor in coffee preference. Take away the price (a major factor for consideration amongst students!), the marketing, the certifications and accolades on the beans, and the comfy pulls of coffee shops and their fashionable social spaces, and really, any coffee seems to be useable – and drinkable.

Where does that leave the idea of “quality” amongst coffee producers and retailers then? For the producers, all the highly skilled techniques employed to enhance the quality of the green beans are not necessarily demanded by the average consumer. However, since producers do not deal directly with consumers, if the buyers and importers are still willing to pay the farmers more for what they consider to be high quality, then it is still in the interest of the farmers to keep the quality as high as possible.

For retailers, however, this does appear to give businesses the perfect excuse to buy in cheaper, low quality coffees, and still sell them to consumers for the same price. Why would any coffee shop want to pay £12 a kilo for coffee, when half their customers are quite happy to drink stuff that costs just £3 per kilo? Quality in this case is very much constructed by the retailers: packaging, exoticism of the country of origin, certifications and labels, cafe branding, presentation of the drink (Simon is going to do another test looking at people’s perception of quality between coffees served with latte art and those without) – and also, price. If coffee costs more, the general assumption is that is must be better quality. Are we naive in this view? It is self-perpetuating – it is thought to be high quality because it costs more, and it costs more because people think it is high quality.

I was reprimanded last week for calling the SCAA’s scale, and various certifications ‘meaningless’ in my thesis chapter. As my supervisor rightly points out, the certifications and quality assurances are not in themselves meaningless, but the meanings they actually represent are not necessarily the most obvious – or what the customer believes them to be. In this case, the SCAA scale is not actually meaningless, but instead of the ratings meaning that the El Salvadorean beans are in the top 15% of all the beans tested, it means that a handful of the self-appointed experts at the SCAA liked the taste of them enough to give the coffee a high score – and in doing so, also gave retailers and importers the leave to charge four times as much for those beans than those from a neighbouring farm. However, this is NOT a quality rating; the points simply show an SCAA taste preference. If, like half of our participants, you happen to agree with the SCAA, then that coffee will be high quality to you. If you prefer the other blend, then so be it; personal preference is, after all, personal, and as our test seemed to show, “quality” is entirely subjective as well!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,