Category: cafe culture

Return to the now – Chapter one

Silence – what is it and where does it come from? Like the empty coffee cup, is it actually empty or waiting?

Contrary to popular belief, the empty cup and saucer is not necessarily a bad thing. It offers optimism, hope and light at the end of that seemingly endless tunnel called life.

For me, the latter half of 2017 and the first 6 months of 2018 have been something of a challenge. Elder care and the death of a family member – always challenging things. But these are things that everyone encounters and has to process in their own way. From within the emptiness of the coffee pot comes a fresh batch of ideas. Every new day brings us alternative coping skills – or that innate ability to move forward despite feeling ankle deep wet concrete holding us back.

The loss of a parent brings unique emotional challenges. For some of us, it might be our mom or our dad – or even a special aunt or uncle. What I discovered about losing “mom” were the unexpected layers or strata of emotional responses and how when you least expected it, something would pop up and trip you up.

Like the weather: You cannot predict it with that much certainty. You do know that a rain is going to fall and the sun will shine in its glory once again. Just maybe not today or tomorrow.

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Thanksgiving – Life in the coffee time-tunnel

Way back in 2008, I popped into Cafe Roma on Commercial Drive in Vancouver – a cafe that has more than a little history for this old part of Vancouver and for me, a big piece of childhood memory too!

One sunny mid-week Spring day, Dave, a contributor to the CoffeeCrew.com website, and I sample the espressos and cappuccinos and taste some delightful locally baked treats.

It reminded me of a unseasonably hot June of 1968, some 40 years earlier, as I walked down East 6th Avenue, Vancouver, towards Commercial Drive.

This was the first trip off of Vancouver Island and the first trip on the fairly new B.C. Ferries and what started as a day trip turned into an overnight adventure as mom decided to hook up with some cousins in the big city.

Mom, who grew up in a multicultural enclave in Montreal, Quebec and spoke 3 languages, including conversational Italian, had brought me over to Vancouver for the weekend to visit the Pacific National Exhibition and to see a piece of the big city. And what a cultural shock it was for a 11 year old to see something so different than sleepy small town Victoria B.C.

Mom’s cousins lived on East 6th Avenue around 2 or 3 blocks from Commercial Drive – a big old character house the likes of which I had never seen before. The original block of houses remain in Vancouver to this day and walking the tree lined sidewalks in 2018 is like a trip through a time tunnel.

On a Saturday morning in June 1968 I started the day with my cousin Dennis by heading out for an exploration. Only in the late 60’s would it seem perfectly normal for a couple of 11 year olds to head out into the urban jungle for a look see.

Turning onto Commercial Drive on this sunny Saturday late morning, Dennis and I walked down wide sidewalks past Italian delis, corner grocers and bustling cafes.

The street had a life of its own. From a child’s perspective, everything seemed brighter, louder, busier and decidedly more fragrant. For a naive kid from small town Victoria, I might as well have been on another planet.

The aroma of strong coffee, cured ham and fresh fruit drifted over the concrete beneath my feet. I stopped for a moment in front of a busy cafe. It seemed to be packed with men, young, old, mostly old men entangled in a circle of loud conversation and broad hand gestures. They spoke Italian, a language my Montreal raised mother used with me when she was displeased.

A young couple caught my eye. They seemed disconnected from this humming umbilical of community.

A girl, likely in her twenties, wore a canary yellow sun-dress and her male friend a wool suit. The suit seems softened by a few years worth of wear and somewhat sticky considering that it was a hotter than usual summer. Between his sips of strong looking coffee from an impossibly small cup and her demurely drawing from something that looked like a milkshake, they talked in a musical banter – words only they appeared to understand.

Dennis grabbed my shoulder and pulled me along. I looked back at the couple nodding and laughing. The girls hair moved up and down held in place by a daisy-yellow hair broach. Now walking again, Dennis steered me into a green grocers hardly a door away from the cafe. With 90 cents in my pocket, a lot of money for 1968, I bought a Butter-finger chocolate bar, some pixie-sticks (fizzy candy in a paper tube) and a cola.

We exited the store and turned left towards the cafe again.

Caffe Roma is now buzzing louder as we strode towards my cousin’s avenue. The table where the young couple sat was now empty save for a cup and a glass. I spot them exiting onto the boulevard, hand in hand, her dress burning a permanent image into my mind, the itchy smell of his suit offering contrast. They vanished into a pulsating hive of urban humanity – a Saturday morning blend of shoppers, smokers, the odd smattering of fashionably clad hipsters and one wide-eyed child – me.

I look in the cafe window again flashing forward to the present. I stand outside of Caffe Roma on Commercial Drive and time has stood still just for me. The reflection in the window looks alternately young and slightly older.

Clouds pass by offering a broad selection of flattering light. CoffeeCrew contributing member Dave watches me for a moment before holding the door.

“Colin, let’s get some coffee…” he says.

The smells and sounds of the the Cafe and the street envelope me like an old gloved hand. For a moment I hold in my palm the paper tubes of fizzy candy and a half-eaten chocolate bar. Dave asks again, “What are you going to have, Colin?”

I order my usual when I am in a cafe for the first time – double espresso and a snack. In this case, they have very tasty looking apple turnovers. I get one.

The intensity of the Italian coffee and the tangy sweetness of the pastry are the perfect match. As I sip the beverage and feel the caffeine perking within me, I can almost hear the whispered conversations of the young lovers from so long ago at a nearby table. Where are they now? Have the years been kind? Most likely, their grandchildren are half-grown up, much as I was in 1968. I think about my marriage, now almost 2 decades in length, and how in places like these, time just stands still.

In the final moments before we leave for our next stop on the drive, the owner pops by to gather up our spent cups. I tell him the coffee is fabulous. His expression is priceless and without words – a combination of ‘of course it is son…’ and ‘I have a cafe to run today…’

As we step onto the still vibrant sidewalk of Commercial Drive, two ten year old boys approach on skate boards. One sails past me like a low flying seagull.

The other swishes to a stop and is immediately hypnotized by the activity in the cafe, the noise, the smells, the starling chatter of the old men.

The cycle continues season by season, year by year through the generations. We are thankful for our memories and the time we have ahead of us. Thanks for the memories Vancouver!

A few months later in 1968, Jimi Hendrix would play a stellar concert at the Pacific Coliseum and a couple of weeks before I arrived in Vancouver Robert Kennedy would be assassinated in Los Angeles during his presidential bid. Here in 2018, Caffe Roma is now part of the history books – but while in Vancouver, you can visit The Drive – Do so. You will be glad you did.

Steeped coffee from Santa Cruz – what’s new.

Podcast – Talking steeped coffee with Josh Wilbur of Steeped Coffee – Santa Cruz, California –

We spoke with Josh Wilbur, brainchild behind the “Steeped Coffee” concept just out of beautiful Santa Cruz California.

Hey. People love coffee. I love coffee and have been talking about it for over 20 years

Just when I think I have run out of things to talk about, something interesting comes down the pipe.

And that is Steeped Coffee.

Steeped Coffee has just launched, arguably, the easiest way to make a great cup of coffee with their fully compostable single-serve bags.

Steeped Bags replace the need for wasteful pods, expensive machines, and time-consuming homebrewing equipment. And for the first time, this new brewing method combines the quality and ethics of specialty coffee with the convenience of a single serving. Not only that but the packaging is Earth friendly too! Wait, what?

My lab mates and I tried some free samples of the Steeped coffee product recently – simply following the dead simple instructions – Hey, if you can make a cup of tea you can make a darn fine cup of coffee. As the press info goes: “Each portion is delivered in a fully compostable nitro sealed packet for freshness, essentially halting the coffee’s aging process so it’s like it was ground within moments.” And we found this to be true. Just ground freshness in an envelope.

As Josh pointed out in our audio interview: “Sometimes simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve. I came up with this idea 7 years ago—knowing that there should be an easier way to make great coffee. When I first started it was just coffee in a tea bag,” said Josh Wilbur, CEO and Founder. “There’s a reason this hasn’t been done before. We had to innovate to account for a number of factors such as sourcing ethical and quality beans, getting the right grind size and density, maintaining the freshness of ground coffee, controlling the water permeability of the filter, and making sure everything we do is environmentally sustainable. Turns out there were a lot of challenges to overcome to make something this simple work.”

Whoa. We love it when a plan comes together.

In our lab at the University of Victoria, we enjoy great coffee every day. We grind and brew for Hario V60 brews as well as Newco pro drip brewers. In a pinch it would be nice to have a slightly faster process that we can count on in a pinch – and have a clear conscience too! We have reviewed numerous “instant brew” type machines with PODS and such that are a blight on the environment. Steeped Coffee has thought it through and brought us something that we can live with. And a product that tastes good. Stay tuned!

For more information, visit Steeped Coffee online.

Podcast – If you cannot see the HTML audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.

Talking coffee health studies with Natasha Hall of NewsTalk 800 CJAD Montreal

Podcast – Talking coffee with Natasha Hall of CJAD 800 NewsTalk – Montreal –

We were talking coffee with Natasha Hall of NewsTak 800 – Montreal on the topic of those seemingly endless health studies on the dire (or wonderful) effects of caffeine and coffee (in general) on your body!

This podcast (interview) is around 14 minutes long – so strap yourself in.

I average around 20 radio, TV or newspaper interviews annually and this was one of the better ones – a lot of these radio hosts are affable, enthusiastic and well read before they undertake an interview – honored to chat on the subject of my passion. Coffee. Love it.

Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.

Talking coffee on CKNW with Gord MacDonald

Podcast –

We were talking coffee with Gord MacDonald from CKNW – 980 from Vancouver — with some really good questions.

This podcast (interview) is around 11 minutes long – so strap yourself in.

I average around 20 radio, TV or newspaper interviews annually and this was one of the better ones – a lot of these radio hosts are affable, enthusiastic and well read before they undertake an interview – honored to chat on the subject of my passion. Coffee. Love it.

Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.

A life in Ice-Cream Chapter one – Orange and Anise

I bought a Ice cream “Core” for my Kitchen Aid professional mixer – the core is a special bowl with a coolant that can freeze and the kit includes the “dasher” which is the rotating arm that churns the ice cream.

It is a simple process: Put the core in the deep freeze (temperature in my freezer is around 5 degrees (F) and that is plenty cold for setting up the core. You can push the core to a cooler temperature but the “mixture” (the dairy mixture that will soon become ice cream after churning) can freeze on contact with the core bowl causing the dasher to seize up – you do not want that to happen.

Anyway – here is the recipe for my first attempt at a Philadelphia style ice cream (contains no eggs) – In my next blog I will demonstrate my first French style of Ice cream (the good stuff!) with eggs.

Ready your gear This series will be written around the KitchenAid Ice Cream maker core – but the recipes work with any method of churning. I grew up making Ice Cream with the Donvier manual Ice Cream maker – which explains why I have such strong wrists!

Ingredients:

2 cups (500ml) 18% 1/2 and 1/2 cream and 1/2 cup whole milk (125ml)
3/4 cup or 150g sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of orange juice.
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon anise extract

Instructions – pour 1 cup of the cream into a medium saucepan and add the sugar and salt.
Add extracts and the zest of one orange (around 1 tablespoon)
Warm over medium heat stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Add 1/2 cup whole milk.
Remove from the heat and add the remaining cream.

Chill mixture thoroughly for around 2 hours – in the fridge.

When ready to “churn” add to your device and follow the device instructions.
Yield is around 1 quart or a litre or so.

This ice cream maintains a pretty white colour and tastes different to different people – some of you will pick up the orange flavour, some the licorice — it is pretty subtle.
Coming up: Some of the richest chocolate ice cream you have ever tasted!

Barista Bible author Cristine Cottrell on the subject of Aussie coffee

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When I started writing about and reviewing coffee shops and cafe culture in the mid-1990’s I always dreamed of writing the ultimate coffee book or complete (as I saw it) history of coffee culture in North America. And although I have kept at a blog and a website on the subject of cafe culture for 20 years now, I have yet to write the book. And in my travels all those years I have met every manner of coffee expert and niche professional – you know, someone who knows espresso inside and out or someone who knows how to build a successful chain of coffee shops or someone who has invented an amazing brewing device or coffee gadget… but I have never met anyone who had that perfect grasp of the entire picture – you know, the person who could write such a book or guide.

Well when Christine Cottrell and her husband Paul came to town (after their tour of the Western states and a visit to SCAA 2015 in April) I thought to myself, OK, I am going to get to meet up with another of the industries leaders in one area or another of specialty coffee. Which in itself is awesome – but I was not expecting to meet that person that was actually creating that definitive guide to all things coffee!

And after a day with Christine and Paul, I had a new perspective and reinvigoration in my own coffee passion.

So, who is Christine Cottrell and what has she done? Well, Christine connects with baristas and coffee experts around the world finding out everything there is to know about global cafe and coffee culture and where the heck it is going.

With over 20 years of experience, herself, in teaching and working in the hospitality industry, Christine created The Coffee Education Network and has helped thousands up their game in specialty coffee with her complete series of training manuals and guides – the flagship being the Barista Bible.

It was in 2009 that the first 10 publications were made available to the Australian marketplace, and they were so warmly received that an international release took place in London, England in 2010 at an international coffee conference. Her guide, the Barista Bible is about simply everything coffee – but there is so much more to it. Her supplementary guides include troubleshooting for the cafe owner and barista, the dialog of the cafe, an up to date dictionary on 21st Centuries emerging coffee lexicon and a complete recipe or menu guide for the modern cafe.

Christine and her husband Paul are clearly on something of a global mission to educate consumers and raise cafe culture (through education and instilling passion in cafe owners) to an entirely new level.

Their motto appears to be “The pursuit of excellence” in Australia and their dedication to a better cup of coffee has, in no small part, pushed Australia to the leading edge in the global quest for cafe quality domination. It was an honour to spend a day with Christine and Paul and I make no bones about it – my own passion level in the World of specialty coffee needed an infusion – and it got one serious one indeed!

Christine’s work is available over on her website at www.perfectespresso.com.au

All you need is now – Living in Victoria – Beer Coffee Battle Royal

Andrea and I spoke with Veronica, creative and business partner at the new Second Crack Coffee on Bridge Street. Between sips of excellent single origin Ethiopian coffee freshly roasted on their Deidrich Roaster and nibbles on a delicious Empire Doughnut, we talked about how Veronica, Aaron and their young one made their way to Victoria. They came via Sweden and via Thailand.

Which begs the question. Why Victoria? Why here? Why now?

Well, guess what? Victoria B.C. Canada is currently ground zero for some of the best coffee in North America, a beer culture that is burning hotter than the engines on an Atlas rocket, a level of culinary competency never seen in our city before and an environment that is 2 and 1/2 seasons long: No snow. No ice. Continuous good times. It would be inaccurate to say that Victoria never sleeps and that the fun runs 24 hours a day… because it doesn’t. It sleeps alright. Upwards of 8 – 10 hours every day… So it can give you another 14 hours of awesome.

Coffee: If you have ever read my reasonably comprehensive list on what the city has to offer in the coffee department, you will know this: We cater to all tastes. We have an inexhaustible supply of freshly roasted single origin coffees and enough espresso coffee to keep and entire city on edge. We’ve got World class baristas on top of their game. We have more cafes per capita than most North American city – slightly behind (but not far) Portland and Seattle Washington. If there is a hip method of brewing coffee in Victoria, it’s here and it’s done really, really well.

Beer: In Victoria’s burgeoning community of brew lovers, our bearded and plaid clad dudes and stylish hipster damsels are a fashion show all to themselves. And the beer itself, well it flows into this city like an effervescent torrent that quenches an ever increasing thirst for unique and classic flavours. And we love it. I have been drinking beer since 1980 and I have never seen anything like this before. It’s amazing.

Food: There is nothing you can tune in on the Food Channel or experience in any four star restaurant in New York or Paris that you cannot get on some level here. Sure, Victoria food culture is something of an amalgam of styles – and there is nothing that is definitively “here” – But… we do a lot of styles really well. With the rise of awareness of sustainability and the 100 mile menu, we are seeing more fresh food, more authentic slow food being done really, really, really well. It’s exciting. It’s engaging and there is enough World quality food to keep you busy for months on end.

So. If you ever wonder why anyone would make their way from the four corners of the globe to come here, it is because it is great. So, if you live here, take a look around in the here and the now. Find your moment. This place is glorious and is totally “now”. Get into it. Check it out. It’s red hot and getting hotter.

All you need is now.


Colin is a Victoria resident and coffee culture writer. Always looking for the best cups and the best plates, Colin checks out them all – so you won’t be disappointed.


20 years in coffee – part 1

It is easy enough to get lost in the 140 character World of twitter where the quest is to be as funny or as informative as you can within some very strict guidelines. Problem is, one can spend way too much time just thinking about shrinking yourself down into this very small world.

Facebook is the same. One starts to think very small. It is like the social media universe is built to cater to the short attention span.

In the real world around us and above us there is no limit. There is no limit to what you can hear, see, small and taste. In the 20 years or so that I have been writing about coffee culture in Canada, I’ve seen it all, sipped it all and met every kind of coffee drinker. And yet I feel like I have just started to scratch the surface.

The exploration of the World around you (and in my case, the coffee World) is all about the people: Meeting them, talking to them, getting their unique perspective – taking it all in and taking away something new… adding to our own collective of knowledge.

In this my first chapter of a coffee journey lasting 20 years I start with today – about how random chance contacts with the people within and without the coffee world shape my perception of the world around me.

Today my coffee break routine was altered by the fact that I had forgotten to bring in a bag of coffee beans to prep in my lab for my fellow techs at 10 AM. I actually had to buy some brewed coffee. So I went to one of the most reliable joints on campus, the Finnerty Express. The Finnerty has been open for more than 20 years. It has been my go to place, either to hang out with friends and colleagues or to take a break from the fast paced World of IT. I celebrate that thing we call Coffee Break!

The Finnerty Express, over the years, has always featured the most passionate and cheerful of coffee people you could meet. After all these years, I think of the staff and crew at the Finnerty as my family.

Today we had a visit from the good people at Salt Spring Coffee – I chatted with one of the sales reps, Deb Franz, on the subject of coffee culture and their fresh new product: Cold Brew coffee.

I have always been a skeptic about changing the formula of a good thing – that is brewing coffee without hot water… I mean, how does that work. Anyway, SS Coffee has perfected the cold brew process by using quality coffee with the 15 hour steeping that cold brew requires and then bottling the “brew” when it is at its peak flavor. Now here is an additional kicker: Cold brew coffee has around 15% (or more) caffeine by volume and when you factor in the reality that the human body absorbs caffeine significantly faster when ingested from a cold beverage, you have the recipe for a stimulating and refreshing beverage.

Deb Franz brings to the coffee World an enthusiasm and passion for the bean and a desire to join the rest of us coffee lovers on this journey. A lifelong journey of exploration of the caffeinated beverage. Thank you for taking the time to chat Deb!

So: Cold brew coffee… a big thumbs up. Cold and refreshing right out of the bottle. And very peppy! I shared a bottle with 3 or 4 of my colleagues… even a non coffee drinker! Would I buy it again? Definitely.

In upcoming chapters I will reflect on two decades of discovery and adventure – and how the journey continues.


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident and coffee expert who has traveled to many corners of coffee World looking for the ultimate cup of coffee… and finding it.


We interview Joey Kramer of Rockin Roasting Coffee

We spoke with Joey Kramer of Rockin Roasting Coffee from Austin, Texas. This is our second conversation with the man who has taken his steady rhythm with the band Aerosmith to the world of specialty coffee. You can read that interview over here

A man of virtually limitless energy, Joey has been tackling the challenges of building a successful coffee business from the ground up. And as Joey makes it abundantly clear, there are no short cuts to success. It is all about putting in the work. Celebrity or no, Joey and his equally energetic partners, Ron Mann and Frank Cimler have discovered that the road to the top is paved with every imaginable challenge.

I think that Mister Kramer was more astounded than I with the achievements over the space of one year; placement in thousands of grocery stores, a partnership with the trusted food company SYSCO and now a bricks and mortar coffee shop in the works.

A coffee shop alone, as any cafe owner will tell you, is a lot of work in terms of development, placement, branding and just getting great coffee into an appreciative audience.

But for Mister Kramer and his tireless dedication to the cause, an actual cafe is a natural extension of his brand of organic coffee beans. Hard work or not, it is just another milestone in what will obviously be a long career in caffeinating the nation.

Hats off to Joey Kramer, and his line of coffee and his dedicated team of professionals.


Listen to the interview |