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Using the right cup – it matters

When talking about coffee and drinking the best possible coffee discussion often end up on the coffee itself: how is the acidity, the bitterness or the sweetness? Is it a fruity coffee or a chocolatey coffee… And then of course there is the issue of the brewing method: espresso, drip coffee or something else…. Which we can extend to the water temperature, the grind etc. These are all factors that determine the taste of your cup of coffee. But have you ever considered that it also matters from what cup you drink your coffee?

It may sound strange, but the cup matters. Part of the coffee drinking experience is the mouthfeel of the coffee, and the mouthfeel starts at the moment your lips touch the mug or cup you’re drinking from: is it a cup with a thin or a thick wall, is it hard or soft material, metal or ceramic? It all makes a difference.

Many years ago in a trip to Mexico we visited a coffee distributor that represented several local coffee farmers to see if we could buy some Mexican coffee. But of course in order to make a choice one first has to taste it, and so we had an appointment for a coffee tasting – not immediately a cupping, but just taste the coffees as normal filter coffees. 

We got the coffee served in big EPS-foam cups and we really didn’t like it. At first we didn’t understand why, but then we realized it was the cups: that funny soft, elastic, chewy feeling of the foam with every sip we took was just disturbing. So we asked for some glasses and poured our coffee in a glass. That was considerably better! Though I have to admit: not good enough, because we didn’t buy any. But that was not because of the cup.

And so at some point we tried, just out of curiosity. We found out that a very thin material is not so pleasant, but neither is a very thick wall cup! In both cases one tends to taste more the cup than the coffee and the coffee seems to be bland in taste. When the material is very thin it feels a bit sharp on the lips as if it’s going to cut and that takes the focus off the coffee, whereas a very thick wall actually gives the feeling you’re almost taking a bit out of the cup: you have more cup in your mouth than coffee.

So the wall should be not too thin, not too thick, let’s say a few millimeters. What about the material? Probably metal, ceramic and glass are the most common materials for cups. There is not much difference between ceramic and glass in our experience, but metal is a bit different. Somehow a metal mug makes the coffee feel like it has less body.

And finally there are some practical aspects. For instance: don’t brew your coffee in a stone cold cup but preheat it by pouring some hot water in and let it warm up for half a minute or so. And if you’re in a colder part of the world you may want to consider using a double wall cup … but make sure that doesn’t make the wall thickness very large of course.

And so you see, the cup matters! A high quality, well roasted and well brewed coffee can still be a disappointment when drunk from a thick wall plastic or foam cup. Something to consider!

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Coffee tour in Antwerp

Antwerp is not only an important port in Europe but also the World’s Largest Coffee port. There are 45000 tons of green coffee in stock in the port at any given moment. Since this amount of coffee is not consumed in Belgium, Antwerp is an important point for transport of beans to the rest of Europe. So much coffee coming in and out has an effect on the city that has an increasing amount of baristas brewing the best coffees they can get their hands on. No more needs to be said: the Antwerp coffee scene deserves a tour on a sunny day in June!

Caffenation, the pioneers
Rob Berghmans and his Caffenation are pioneers in the Antwerp coffee scene. You may have seen their bright coloured bags in bars throughout Europe. He started in 2010 the first Belgian specialty micro roastery. Since then they have kept their focus on quality, origin and well trained collaborators. I visited the coffee bar next to the roastery that is located in the south of the city at walking distance from the train station Berchem. Unfortunately I was not able to visit the roastery itself. Having tasted very nice Caffenation coffees in different places in the Netherlands my expectations were high, very high. The personnel were friendly and talkative. The barista recommended me to have an espresso with bourbon washed beans from Rwanda Nyamasheke Macua although it was not his favourite coffee. That confused me but I ordered it anyway. To my surprise my espresso had almost no crema, eventhough I was waiting for it next to the barista and the espresso machine.  The barista worked by the book weighting the portafilter and ground coffee, extracting it in less than 30 seconds and serving it immediately. The coffee was roasted two weeks before so well, then still it must have been the brewing technique that killed the crema. The aroma floral and spicy was promising but I was not impressed with the flavour with a bitterness as from black tea and unpleasant cider acidity. The aftertaste was salty, as described by the tasting note next to my espresso, but it was bitter too.

Caffenation Bar Roastery and its nice bright bags

Cuperus, the legend
In the downtown I found Cuperus, the oldest coffee and tea bar in Antwerp. This former family business has been supplying the city with coffee for more than 190 years. Besides serving warm drinks and sweets, this is a proper coffee and tea store where you would have a hard time choosing what to bring home. Their old-style cans reminded me of their long tradition. Here too, the personnel was helpful and friendly. The espresso of the day was a Bourbon and Catuai from Serra do Cigano, Brazil. My cup had a good crema, fruity aroma and medium body. It tasted a bit sweet, hints of stone fruits and serious nutty flavour. I enjoyed it! Which was not a surprised since it was a natural processed bean roasted light from Latinamerica, more or less my type of coffee.

First stop in the downtown: Cuperus

Normo, the hipsters
A short walk from Cuperus I walked into Normo. This place felt more of a third-wave coffee place than the previous. Here I had a very professional yet stressed barista trying to cope with a queue of costumers waiting for their turn to order coffee combined with a constant flow of costumers returning empty cups. Maybe I was there on the wrong time. Nevertheless, my espresso was well extracted and served with a quick smile. The espresso blend had 70% Catuai natural from Agua Limpia, Brazil plus 30% Ethiopia Limu washed. Interesting combination that results in a medium body, clean cup with good balance between an apple acidity, hints of walnuts, sweetness and savoury notes.

Normo, a must in Antwerp

Teakoff, the hidden jewel
Between my necessary waffle break (I cannot be in Antwerp and go back without enjoying a good waffle) and the visit to the Museum Platin-Moretus (highly recommended) I realized that I was not going to be able to visit all the coffee places in my list. I was heading towards Viggo’s which was a must-visit in my list when a blackboard caught my attention. It announced a specialty coffee place that I was not aware of. Curiosity took the lead making me forget about the other places that I wanted to visit and I walked a block to find Teakoff, a cozy tea and espresso bar. I had a nice chat with the owner/barista Sofia. She served me an espresso brewed with coffee from Huehuetango, Guatemala. The blend of Bourbon, Catuai and Caturra washed beans was roasted by Cross Roast, an Antwerp roastery. It had more body than any other espresso I tasted that day. It was a balanced cup with hints of citrus fruits, slight bitterness and a sweet aftertaste. For me this was the best espresso of the day!!

Best espresso!

Antwerp has more places worth visit so I will have to come back. Stay tuned!

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Espresso Coco Loco

Temperatures are rising in Europe. On Monday, a usual roasting day for me, it was 31C outside! Not the nicest weather to roast coffee but once finished I pampered myself with my own version of Espresso Coco Loco. This is a quick and simple yet delicious recipe to refresh yourself. “Coco Loco” which means crazy coconut in Spanish is a traditional cocktail in the Caribbean. It is usually prepared with rum, coconut milk and ice. Some versions also add pineapple or lime juice, tequila or vodka. It is not strange that coconut milk and rum are the base for many cocktails (as Pina colada) because they go alone very well. Coconut milk gives a creamy texture to the drink while the rum provides the necessary boost.

Espresso Coco Loco

How to prepare Espresso Coco Loco

We need a double espresso, sugar, coconut milk, rum, ice cubes and a blender.

For the coffee prefer fruity or naturally processed coffees which combined with the creamy coconut milk will bring out a flavour that reminds of a milk shake with Caribbean flavours. I chose the Cariamanga Natural coffee from Engrano. This is a 100% Arabica, varietal tipica, dried processed with hints of cacao and nuts.

Brew a double espresso and pour it into the blender cup.

Double espresso

Mix it with some sugar. Then add two spoons of coconut milk, a small glass of rum (30 ml) and ice.

Two tablespoons of coconut milk
Add some rum

Blend it all together and then …. enjoy!


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Coffee tour in Zagreb

This was my first time in Croatia and right away I was gladly impressed by its capital Zagreb. The city is cosy, elegant but modest, busy but still relaxed… pretty much as its inhabitants. While walking around the downtown I noticed that Zagreb is still an Illy territory. I also spotted Lavazza, Arabesca (Croatian company) and Bou Cafe (from Spain) coffee served in many places and these are all coffees that I am not impressed with. However, after reading about the coffee scene in the Croatian capital I found places that serve single origin coffees roasted by themselves or by some small artisan roaster. The friendly local baristas also advised me to visit new places that I was not aware of or to avoid the ones that are not serving good coffee anymore.

My tour started with a local legend: Cogito (Varsavska ulica 11)

I was curious about roaster and retailer Cogito because many reviews mention this as the best coffee in town. I first visited one of their coffee shops, a light place with minimalistic design and tables and chairs that resemble those of my elementary school. I ordered a flat white (for my first cup in the morning I prefer it to have milk) and an espresso both prepared with a blend of coffee from Rwanda and Costa Rica. With the first sip I felt some acidity but the finish was bitter. The smiley barista then told me that this blend was meant for drinks with milk, but for espresso I rather try the other coffee offered that day. I agreed but decided to try it at another Cogito coffee spot.

Espresso at Cogito

Next stop for a second chance: Cafe U Dvorištu (Ulica Jurja Žerjavica 7/2)

I felt I was going through a passage into somebody’s home when I found this nice terrace that belongs to Cafe U Dvorištu, decorated in the industrial hipstery style that is so much in fashion. Next to the cafe is the roastery of Cogito. The concept was developed by two Matijas. Matija Hrkac realized that there were not enough coffee roasteries in Zagreb and opened one in Jurja Žerjavica Street, right next to Cafe u Dvorištu that was opened by Matija Bekovic. Since they both shared a love of coffee they decided to team up. The result is a comfortable place to enjoy the sun, the view of the roastery and a great cup of coffee. This time I ordered the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe natural: balanced, full body with soft aftertaste. I enjoyed the floral aroma, the fruity acidity and light sweetness.

Looking at the roastery while enjoying their coffee

Where it all started: Eli’s cafe (Ilica 63)

Legend says that barista champion Nik Orosi was the first one to bring specialty coffee to Zagreb. He opened Eli’s caffe bar in 2005 and started roasting his own coffee in 2009. The bar, located in the most prominent street of Zagreb, is decorated in a simple, fashionable way with dark colours and only a few lamps. This is creates an intimate space which is not what I expect from a coffee place nowadays as we are used to open, light, minimalistic, Scandinavian decoration (or lack of it). I got my first espresso from the barista but I was not impressed. Nik was around and immediately brought me a second one extracted shorter than the first, thus better. Made from Peruvian, natural, organic coffee it had full body, light acidity like from grapes. A third espresso was even better, made from Ethiopian Yirgacheffe lavado: medium body, clean flavour, acidity as in mandarins. The best part of this visit was the service: making me a second shot so that I can enjoy it without me asking for it made me a fan. I was so happy to chat with Nik about coffee, origins, roasting and the changing coffee consumption of Croatians.

One cup after the other

Quahwa: the new kid in town (Ul. Nikole Tesle 9/1)

I know I have to visit a place when more than one barista in town recommend it, so I head to Quahwa, the new roaster in town. This is another coffee place located in the interior patio of a building, something that seems to be very common in Zagreb. The space is big, nicely decorated with coffee bags and espresso machines as a base for tables while the roasters are opposite to the bar. From the coffees offered here I chose a natural from Brazil, Monte Cristo. It was a nice shot with a good body, balanced and pleasant acidity as from berries and hints of chocolate. The next day I came back to try some different brewing with the same coffee. This is the only place in town to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee. They prepared it in a traditional way heating the cezve (vessel) in hot sand; because the sand offers a more consistent heat. What a pleasure to see this ceremony! They do add sugar during the preparation so the taste of my coffee is hard to describe but this time I felt more and more chocolate flavour and dried fruits.

Quahwa offers a wide range of brewing techniques and beverages. If I would have stayed longer in Zagreb I would for sure tried more drinks here. They even prepare on the spot their own condensed milk!

Its all about coffee
Turkish coffee

Outside the downtown: Teneo (Treshnjevachki Trg 2)

I included Teneo in my tour after I saw it mentioned in the European Coffee Tour webpage even though it is outside the downtown, a bit too far to walk. The chat with Christian Cviljak was worth the trip by tram. Trams work wonderfully in Zagreb, they’re cheap and efficient and so ok, I did enjoy the ride there too. Christian roasts his own coffee and runs this cute self-standing coffee bar with a few tables inside and a terrace. I loved the Joe Frex glasses! My espresso was made with a blend of coffee from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ethiopia and a small percentage of coffee from India. However, for my taste the coffee is a bit overroasted which, I have heard during this trip, is still more in the taste of Croatians.

Love the glass

Walking along a small street in the downtown: Najgora Kava u Gradu (P Sestara Bakovic 3)

While walking through a quiet, yet still lively, alleyway in the centre of Zagreb I saw this tiny coffee place. The drawing of Frida Kahlo (a 20th century Mexican artist) in the window caught my attention, together with the sign below saying “worst coffee in town”.  Unfortunately, I also find this Ethiopia Sidamo overroasted. The fragrance was interesting with some citrus hints but the low acidity and some peanut flavour was overruled by a smoky, bitter taste.

Frida Kahlo caught my attention

Safe the best for last is said. True. Express bar is a few steps from the main square in Zagreb thus it was the closest to my hotel. I went there as my final stop when I felt the deepest need of a good espresso. The place has a serious Scandinavian influence: light wood, simple deco, a coffee flavour wheel in chalk in the wall. I had an espresso with Caturra White Honey beans from Costa Rica roasted by Square Mile (UK). I love it! It was balanced, full bodied, nice acidity as from cherries, a chocolate hint too and a good fruity aftertaste. I enjoy every sip!

The best espresso at: Express bar (Petrinjska 4)

Next day, my last in Croatia, I came back for more. Lucky me I run into the owner Ivan Leko, who told me that at Express bar they rotate their coffees frequently. They have used beans from Cogito, the Barn from Berlin and now from UK. They use good beans and they do know how to extract espressos.

Best espresso in my coffee tour in Zagreb

During my visit to Croatia and my coffee tour around Zagreb I run into super friendly people willing to share their time and coffee experience with me.  I learned that Croatians enjoy Turkish coffee at home. When going out they rather enjoy other coffee beverage which is why it is not so easy to find Turkish coffee served in the city. For decades the coffee supply was dominated by dark, bitter, industrial coffee but that is changing fast with more artisan roasters and dedicated baristas.

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Yes, I do like coffee tonic

Confession: I like to drink a coffee tonic.

Why? Because I enjoy coffee. I like to roast it, smell it, taste it and I do drink many beverages based on coffee as long as I can taste the magic black liquid. My choice for a warm and sunny summer like the one we have this year in Europe is a coffee tonic.

The recipe is very easy: Espresso, tonic water, ice and if you like it also a twist of lemon. The proportion of the ingredients depends on you and your taste. I like to use one part espresso (one espresso) and two parts tonic water. To prepare it first pour the tonic water and ice into the glass. Then pour the espresso. Finally add the lemon zest.

Espresso+Tonic Water+Lemon
Pour espresso over tonic water and ice cubes
Keep the espresso/water ratio that you like
Add zest from lemon or other fruit

Coffee from different types of beans will make the drink taste different logically. A fruity coffee bean such as those from Ethiopia matches well with the citrusy taste of the quinine. However, a nuttier coffee bean (as the Manabi coffee from Engrano) or beans with more chocolate taste (as the Coatepec coffee from Engrano) will add depth to the drink. So, when I use my Latin American beans I add the twist of lemon to balance the acidity and sweetness. If lemon is too acidic for you then better use zest of mandarins, sweet oranges, cherries (natural or extract) or extract of pomegranate.  You could play around with the flavour of the coffee and the intensity of the fruit. Adjust the coffee to tonic water ratio accordingly.

Coffee tonic can be also prepared with cold brew coffee. In Mexico at the famous Cafe Avellaneda I enjoyed a delicious drink with cold brew (called by them cafe reposado), tonic water and the lemon twist. Very refreshing!

A coffee tonic in Mexico at Cafe Avellaneda
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Coffee tour in Barcelona

My own latest coffee tour in Barcelona had the best possible starting point: Nomad Coffee! Started and run by Jordi Mester, they have three spots in Barcelona and on top of that plenty of places also serve their coffee. But I was lucky enough that my hotel was just two blocks from the location where they in fact roast coffee: Roasters Home. So there I enjoyed a double espresso from Colombia while I watched them roast a new batch. This coffee was grown by Juan Pablo Penagos at Finca Santa Helena (1670 masl), a washed coffee varietal Castillo Naranjal. It has a good body, fruity sweetness, a hint of almonds in the aftertaste. I do appreciate acidity in my espresso, but i think it was a bit too acid. Talking to the barista, she agreed that the batch from which I was drinking was roasted a bit too light.

Colombian coffee at Nomad

I then head to the downtown to buy one of my favorite cookies: alfajores. These are not traditional from Barcelona, but the best known brand (Havanna) from Argentina does have stores in Barcelona. Unfortunately as good as the cookies are at Havana, the espresso is not as remarkable. It was bitter and had almost no crema.

My next stop is Cometa: a cozy lunchroom and coffee place south from the downtown. Funny enough, I was not aware that they serve Nomad’s coffee. So well, instead of asking for an espresso to taste the coffee I had a cortado, my favourite coffee drink, and some cake. The menu said it was the same Santa Helena coffee that I had in the morning, but this time I didn’t feel the acidity nor the fruity sweetness. So, to clear up any doubt I ordered an espresso and I confirmed with the waiter that it was indeed the Santa Helena. But different barista, different taste: I think the espresso machine here is set to a too high temperature or the barista is just overextracting the coffee because it was not the same as directly from Nomad.

Cortado and cake at Cometa

One more place in my list was Satan’s Coffee at Gran Via. I heard about Satan’s as being one of the first specialty coffee bars in Barcelona set up by Marcos Bartolomé. They serve coffee roasted by Right side coffee. Satan’s Coffee is located inside the design hotel Casa Bonay. The space is nice, open and light and it reminds me of places in Australia, actually. The day I was there they were serving Colombian coffee from La Victoria in the Huila region. Grown at 1900 masl this Caturra was grown and washed by Yisela Piso and roasted one week ago. The espresso blew me away! It was very nicely balanced; it had acidity as from cider, a herbal flavour in the mouth and an aftertaste like pears and caramel.

Brew bar at Satan’s coffee corner
This espresso blew me away!

Pretty high on caffeine by now I moved on to another legendary coffee place in Barcelona: Cafes El Magnifico in the Gothic neighborhood of downtown Barcelona. When I entered this coffee temple I ran into Salvador Sans, the current owner. He is the third generation now in charge of this place that was founded in 1919. The baristas were busy with a short queue and so there was not much time to chat. I ordered first an espresso: the coffee served that day was Red Bourbon from Montecristo, Nicaragua. This coffee is grown by Jaime Jose Molina Fiallos, at 1300 to 1450 masl and the process is honey. It was strong and had a full body but a bit on the bitter side for my taste. As the small sitting area emptied I take my chance to taste something else so I ordered an Aeropress with coffee from the farms Himalaya and Divisadero from El Salvador. Their coffee menu is extensive. After a few minutes I decided to taste this coffee grown by Mauricio Salaverria at 1500 masl. The varietals are Red Caturra and Pacamara and the process is honey. I followed the barista next door, literally, to enjoy the ritual that you can see in the video.

A legendary place in Barcelona
The barista guiding me to enjoy the aroma

Served in a wine glass, I enjoyed the chocolate and praline fragrance. In the mouth it has a medium body and low acidity. The first taste was silky followed by sweet with hints of candied fruit, caramel and a spicy finish. While drinking I have the opportunity to chat with Mr. Sans, a coffee connaisseur.

Every time I come to Barcelona I discover new places, or traditional places with new coffee offers. Time always come short, see you soon Barcelona!

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Barcelona coffee culture

It is simply not possible to walk around Barcelona and not stop for a cup of coffee. Whether this is your first visit and you want to see everything in a short period of time or this is just one more visit to your friends that are lucky enough to live here at the “Ciudad Condal”. Either way, there are just too many attractive coffee places where customers enjoy beverages and life that you can only fill the need to join them and discover why coffee culture in Barcelona is so appealing.

Espresso before sightseeing

Coffee consumption in Spain can be traced back to the 18th century, a bit later than for other European countries. Eventhough, some stories mentioned that Emperor Charles I (1500-1558) tried coffee and found it energizing. By drinking some of this black medicine he was able to stay awake and work extensive hours. But as this magic potion was considered an evil drink by the religious authority its consumption didn’t spread. Only after it was cleared from its unholy reputation it was the nobles who started drinking it first before the rest of the population gained access to it.

Coffee culture in Barcelona nowadays means that on the way to work people stop first at the local coffee corner for a cortado and a croissant or “bocadillo” (a salty snack) while after work they again first go for a cafe con leche – espresso and milk – or cafe solo – espresso – before heading home. Around 18:00 many coffee places are filled up with families returning from picking up the kids from school. There the kids have their “merienda” (snack before dinner) while the parents have some coffee. But on top of that coffee is also consumed after lunch or during a morning break. And obviously, with such a demand the offer is extensive. In most of the places the quality of coffee is good and improving to even excellent while the prices are considerably lower than in the northern European countries: 1€ to 2€ for an espresso.  Cafe con leche are almost cappuccinos, the main difference is that here cappuccinos have always cocoa powder.

Cappuccino here has cocoa powder

A relic from the past, but less and less common, are places serving cafe torrefacto. Torrefacto is the process where sugar is added to coffee during it last roasting stage. The common practice is to add 15% sugar by weight. When the sugar is added the temperature in the roasting chamber is around 200°C and so the sugar caramelizes forming a shiny layer around the coffee bean. This layer will make the coffee look uniform but it also make the taste uniform, deep, bitter and uniform. Additionally it covers up the aroma (too bad!). The main reason that people did this to coffee is need! Torrefacto started during the 1940s when coffee, among other goods, was in short supply. By partially replacing the coffee with sugar during roasting and making it more bitter, less coffee was necessary to prepare the beverage. But as mentioned, the torrefacto process makes the coffee bitter and destroys any good aroma and therefore cafe torrefacto is nowadays considered a bad habbit.

In my next post I will tell you about my coffee tour in this beautiful city, stay tuned!


Don’t forget to visit the iconic places in Barcelona
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Ice Coffee

For the first time in many years we enjoyed a real summer in the Netherlands: sunny, dry, warm… for more than two days in a row. Since June the temperature raised and except for a few chilly days in August this was a warm summer.
But warm days are enjoyable when you are on holidays, not working. This summer, in our roasting room the temperature kept going up during roasting to as much as 38C. So how did we survive? With coffee of course!!

I like cold coffee as much as warm coffee, as long as it’s based on espressos. So here is a list of my favourite summer caffeine fixes.

Ice Espresso
Quick and simple, chill an espresso by adding ice cubes. I normally don’t add sugar to my espressos but when I am going to drink it iced, I do. I first brew my double espresso (60 ml) and then dissolve a little bit of sugar, usually 1/8 of a teaspoon and max 1/4 of a teaspoon. The sugar will provide a contrasting flavour.
Finally I pour the warm drink over ice cubes and voilá.

Ice Espresso, simple and refreshing

Portuguese style
For a fresh twist go Portuguese and prepare a Mazagran. First brew your espresso with a strong full flavour coffee with less acidity as our Manabi Natural. Dissolve some sugar in the warm drink. Then place ice cubes in a glass, 3 or 4, and add a wedge of lemon. Pour the warm drink into the glass, let it chill for a moment before enjoying it.

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of sugar for a double espresso

Ice Latte
I like my ice latte to taste as coffee so I brew a double espresso (60 ml) for it. Again, I dissolve a small amount of sugar (1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon) in the espresso. I pour the warm drink in a blender. Then I add about the same amount of milk as espresso or slightly more, 60 to 80 ml. Top it with ice cubes, as many as you want. Blend and serve.
A variation of this drink is a shaken version, putting the ingredients into a cocktail shaker instead of a blender.
Another variation that we like is replacing the normal cow milk with almond milk for a different flavour that does not overpower the coffee taste. We sometimes also use chocolate milk instead of normal milk but then I do not dissolve sugar in the espresso since I find commercial brands of chocolate milk sweet enough.

Everything in the blender
Ice Latte!

This week we welcome autumn but as the temperatures are still on the warm side, we will still chill our espressos for a while, enjoy!

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The joy of serving good coffee

For the last couple of months I have been busy running my own espressobar. It is an adventure that I got involved in last October when I spotted an available (and affordable) space inside a concept store in downtown Rotterdam. For about two months my husband and I were busy buying stuff and building the espressobar before we went on a holiday and source trip to Ecuador for most of December. One week after we came back we opened Engrano Cafe.
During these months lots of new experiences have kept me busy because I was not so familiar with the work in hospitality industry. The three months that I worked for McDonalds when I was 18 doesn’t really count, right? For three years we served coffee to hundreds of customers in fairs with our mobile espressobar and I found it a very tiring but overall joyful experience. On busy days we couldn’t even keep the counter clean while we served as many espressos or cappuccinos as we could while people were queuing for 10 minutes to get them. On days with bucketing rain or above 30C and sunny we had not much to do, but then we had time to chat with the scarce customers. It was always nice to interact with other people and to let my passion go wild. Talking about coffee is almost as rewarding as serving a cup and see people enjoy it.
Or that is what I thought….

Yours truly at our espressobar Engrano Cafe

Now I can say, that to see and hear how much people enjoy a cup of coffee is much better! For the first time in my life I saw people spoon the last bits of their cappuccino from the cup. I have seen people “discover” how good coffee can taste. We have heard comments as: this is much better than any other coffee we have tasted. Or, this coffee is not bitter! Or, coffee has different tastes! We have seen our customers discover the layers, texture and tastes of a cup of espresso, with the same amazed expression of a professional coffee cupper.

And when we served coffee with milk, in cappuccinos, lattes or ice lattes we are now used to comments such as: we can still taste the coffee! Or a now classic: This ice coffee really taste like coffee!

One of my favourite moments happened not long ago: early in the day a young guy came to the espressobar and he told me that he likes coffee and he actually work at the moment in a store that sells a famous brand of coffee capsules. We talked for a while about coffee, the coffee farmers that I have visited and the roasting that I do. Suddenly he said he had to go to work but he will for sure come back, and so he did. That same day, close to closing time, he came back with a bag of coffee from Chiapas, Mexico. He got it as a gift from his brother and he wanted me to have it. I was touched! Since earlier that day he mentioned how interested he was in coffee from Galapagos (Ecuador) I served him an espresso from that coffee. He truly enjoyed it! Every sip. He smelled it carefully before tasting it. With every sip he described one more attribute: the textures, the flavours, the intensity, the after taste. He was so happy to taste this coffee and I was happy too to be able to bring this moment of joy to someone.

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Coffee and Chili

Starting from this post I will write every week about my favourite coffee beverages. Some of the recipes are my own creations but many are drinks I have had at coffee places or recipes taken from coffee books.
Even if you love your simple espresso or cappuccino every morning there is no reason why to not have fun with coffee. You can pair coffee with many complementary flavours to create exciting drinks. For instance, you can try citrus or sweet tastes, or go bold with spices, or traditional with alcoholic drinks.

One of my own favourite coffees is a chili espresso: one of my own inventions. I am born in Mexico thus I like spicy food. Well, funny enough, I don’t like it too spicy though. When I’m in Mexico with my husband (a very tall blond Dutchman who really enjoys very spicy food) we usually order a medium spicy and a very spicy dish. The waiter then usually gives me the very spicy dish and my Dutch husband gets the medium spicy one. Which we immediately switch to the surprise of the waiter.

From all the chili’s used in Mexican kitchen, I like the ones that are rather mild and are full of flavour: the Chile Poblano, it’s dry version Chile Ancho, Chile Chipotle (which is smoked-dry Jalapeno) or the Chile Guajillo, which is a dry chile Mirasol. I’m not really into chilis that are just spicy without adding much flavour.

Now for pairing with coffee I chose Chile Guajillo because of it’s taste: a bit acid, smokey and fruity, but not overpowering the flavour of the coffee. I first cut it in small pieces and then I grind it in a mortar. Obviously, the more chili powder you prepare the more flavour it will infuse into your drink and it’s to everybody’s personal taste how much chili should be added. Then I add the chili powder to the ground coffee in the portafilter and brew an
espresso as usual.

Fine chop some Guajillo
Then grind it in a mortar

I first tried with a strong coffee, like the Manabi that I sell in my webshop, but the coffee flavour overpowers the spice of the chili and so I tried another coffee: one with mild body and less acidity like the Cariamanga Lavado (

Extract as usual

The chili-infused espresso with this coffee has a smooth flavour that first fills the mouth as with a regular espresso, and then comes a tingly feeling in the tongue and in the throat with an aftertaste combined of coffee and chili. Different as when eating spicy food, there is not burning or glowing feeling, no pain. I’m pretty sure that when adding enough chili the burning feeling can be obtained, but that is of course not the purpose here: we want to combine coffee and chili and not make hot chili water.

This beverage should be enjoyed without milk, though. Milk is a traditional cure for overdose of chili. The active ingredient in chili is capsaicin, and this dissolves in both alcohol and vegetable oils. However, it doesn’t dissolve in water (that is why when you eat something too spicy, drinking water won’t help relieve the pain). Milk, from mamals, contains casein, a fat-loving substance that has a detergent effect on the capsaicin from the chili’s. Thus, if you prepare a cappuccino then the effect of chili in your drink will be unnoticeable.

I can imagine that not everybody has dried chili’s at home, though your local store may sell some, or otherwise try a toko (an Asian ingredients store) as they may also have some stock on dried chili’s. As a last resort you can buy premade chili powder of course. But if you do so, please check that the chili powder has no salt….because I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how espresso with salt will taste!

Chili espresso!