UK - Europe trip
Glad to be back in SA. Our UK - Europe trip was amazing to say the least.
So here is my experience regarding coffee in UK (London), Netherlands (Amsterdam), Belgium (Brugge), France (Paris; Lyon), Greece (Katakolon), Turkey (Izmir and Istanbul), Croatia (Dubrovnic) and of course Italy (Parma; Viadana; Monterosso; Vernazza; Corniglia; Manarola; Riomaggiore; Tremosine; Venice and Bari).
All over coffee was pretty disappointing. Yes SA is not the only place where they don't tamp, don't clean the steam wand, overheat the milk, grind enough coffee for the hole day, pull terrible shots under 16 seconds.
In London It is the same story as in SA there is a hand full of fantastic speciality shops that make great coffee and the rest should rather stick to making tea. Some of the great places were Gwilym's stand, they also use Square Mile Coffee Roasters www.squaremilecoffee.com coffee and I brought 2 x 300gm of their Summer espresso blend back with me.
Monmouth www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk not only make great coffee but have an excellent vibe in such a small shop. The only franchise that I found that makes a decent cup was Costa coffee.
The same goes for Amsterdam 90% of the places make horrible coffee and 10% excellent coffee. I found a great coffee shop/roaster one where they actually make coffee with no space cakes on the side. It was quite difficult to take photos they were quite concerned that I might be an industrial spy.
In Brugge (Belguim), well you don't drink coffee here, not at all, and there is no reason for them to worry about coffee. They have beer lots and lots of wonderful beer served perfectly at the right temp and in the brands specific glass. We were sitting at a place called Joey's having quite a couple of beers including one of my favourites a Leffe blond. They serve over a 100 different beers and each one has its own specific glass. The reason for this is that if you want a refill you just raze your glass and the barman will know what brand you want. Maybe something to consider for a busy coffee shop. Serve all the different coffees in specific cups and glasses even just if you do your decaf in a coloured cup.
In France I actually stopped drinking coffee. I have learned my lesson, first see how the barista makes a coffee for someone else, then you just walk-on to the pastry shop and buy a lekker baguette and swallow it down with another beer.
Italy Italy Italy you have disappointed me so much. Yea it is true, their coffee is consistent. They actually all have exactly the same technique. Grind till the dosing chamber is half full. For a single, dose once, for a double, twice, a light tamp with the grinders built-in tamper insert and pull the shot under 16 seconds. Yes all of them. So if you want to taste some Italy's "cafe" follow the above steps using Lavazza, Segafredo or any brand with a good amount of Robusta. They are fast, they don't overheat the milk and a lot of their baristas is very good looking girls, mmm. They also do stick to 25 - 30ml shots, not like some of the SA shops that fill you cup with a 100ml shot to save on milk.
I thought that I will see some nice old lever machines in Italy, but they all have spanking new machines. It was quite strange even the smallest corner cafe will have a brand new 4 group La Cimbali. All their Catering equipment is amazing only the latest and the best brands. Spaziale and Cimbali where in most of the shops and you very seldom see a Wega or La Marzzoco.
Their Coffee culture is very noticeable, it is strange to see 4 woman walking into a shop and all of them order an espresso. They actually don't drink a lot of cappuccinos even in the mornings. I think the most used sentience in Italy is "Uno cafe"
I am sure there will be shops in Italy that does speciality coffees that is great, but I could not find one in the 10 towns that I visited.
The last week of our trip was on a cruse ship with about 80% of the passengers being Italian. On our second stop at Greece, two of the guys ordered their usual "Cafe" at a bar and the "bar girl" used her Cimabli Junior and poured some hot water into to espresso cups then added a spoon of instant coffee to it. The two Italians were in shock they could not even get a word out. They looked at me and I just started laughing, they joined in and could not stop laughing. So in Greece rather drink some Ouzo.
Turkey was great they have a whole lot of coffee shops some of them with up to 3 shop roasters. Roasting various coffees and other nuts. The great thing about Izmir and Istanbul is that you can buy a Turkish coffee grinder at every second store for about a R100. I bought two and wish I could fit more into my already overloaded suitcase.
I tried their Turkish coffees a couple of times the 1st one I tried had a bad metal tasted to it, but I knew I had to try again somewhere else. On recommendation I went to a shop on a square inside the famous market in Istanbul. The coffee was quite smooth, easy to drink no metal this time and had a pleasant after taste but it does lack aroma.
Dubrovnic, Croatia was so breathtaking that I totally forgot to look at coffee shops. They do however have quite an interesting fruity local beer.
I think we are in a good position. We have the chance to create a coffee culture with speciality coffee. I cant see Italy improving their coffee, can't teach an old dog new tricks. Its like trying to retrain a barista with bad habits. They think they know best and always revert to what they are used to. I have also realised how much the guys from TriBeCa has already contributed promoting good coffee in SA through the Woolworths cafes. It is great that we have small speciality shops and roasters that produce good coffee but Woolworths is introducing good quality coffee to the masses and once the masses are spoiled with good coffee they will start demanding it.
If we fail at creating a coffee culture based on good coffee, I think we should start brewing beer.