Is dead?

I love a dramatic title…. However, the question remains valid! I have barely posted in the last three months, and I can’t just place the blame on Square Mile commitments. In truth lots of little things have contributed – no more internet at home, a broken macbook that I keep forgetting to buy a new battery for, and just having less time.

I remain a little torn about continuing this blog. There are a lot of things on my mind that I would like to put to a public forum, to discuss and perhaps even opinionate upon! However I have to acknowledge that my previous compulsion to blog has gone.

When I started this blog it was mostly because I was struggling to learn and develop and it was a way for me to advance my learning. Let me be clear here – I am not stopping writing because I think I know all I need to know. Quite the opposite – I am confronted with new challenges and opportunities to learn and develop every single day.

Still – there are a few things I want to post about and maybe get some discussion going on. This may turn into a very long post.

Coffee, Labels and Descriptions

I am going to start with labeling. Labels have been a bit of an issue for me since I started to have to write them. I felt it was very easy to slip into a formula, one created and maintained by the industry as a whole. I felt that I was writing very generic sentences, even though the descriptions were precise and accurate to the coffee (I hoped!).

So I started to look around for inspirations. I did have some reservations that we write descriptions like this because this is the best way for the public to receive the information we are trying to deliver, and that in stepping away I would break a line of communication. If anything this was only re-inforced when I looked at labeling in wine. Here was one industry that we are jealous of, in terms of increasing consumer awareness and (ultimately) spending. Wine labels are still very much the same. I didn’t find anything particularly inspiring or interesting there so I moved back to the web.

Tag clouds always appealed to me as a method of delivering weighted information. I felt that with espresso in particular labels needed to embrace the multitude of flavours coffee is capable of offering and how brewing can influence the cup and change the emphasis on particular tastes. The problem I had with tag clouds was that they are generally pretty ugly.

I am grateful to our designers for being patient with me as I demanded beautifully typeset tag clouds from them, and more grateful for the hard work they put in on their own time. I am delighted with the results, and I hope that customers respond to it. It is by no means perfect but if it works then it may be something worth developing. Right now we are only using this on our seasonal espresso labels because it is such a time consuming process to typeset everything.

square mile espresso

New Square Mile Autumn Espresso Label

I am curious as to how customer reaction will be, and I hope they like it!

French Press/Cafetiere/Plunger

I have never been more in love with this little brewer than I am now. I think anyone who is a coffee professional has been both saddened and heartened at the same time that just about everyone has one of these at home and most people rarely use them, and when they do – they use them badly.

french press

I love the Bodum 1 cup Columbia

We’ve been brewing the ‘Wendelboe’ way – there will be a short videocast of this very soon – and it is about as sludge free as it gets. And I hate sludge. I really do. I hate that when I get to that last mouthful, and the coffee is usually at a perfect temperature, that I am put off it by the fines lurking at the bottom of my cup. I hope to get my hands on a Mahlkoenig Vario home grinder very soon, and I am hopeful that the burrs do a good job at this grind setting, more than I hope they do a good job for espresso. Which is probably wrong but hey ho. I just can’t help but look at an espresso machine and worry that for all we spend and how hard we have to work, compared to how often we are satisfied. (Not that I am have fallen out of love with my Synesso, it still makes me worryingly happy).

Environment, Ethics, Sustainability and Business

For a long time now it seems that just being organic, or being fair trade was a good enough reason to be in business. This may seem a harsh judgment but I think the service sector jumped to supply the growing consumer desire for ethical produce and in focusing solely on that forget the rest of the customer experience.

We never wanted to be labeled as a “green” company, or an “environmentally friendly” company. We wanted to be labeled as a high quality speciality coffee roaster first and foremost. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t be green, it just means that we don’t try and trade on it. This doesn’t just apply to coffee. As a customer of any company I driven primarily by product and customer experience. I won’t buy from somewhere just because they are a green company. In a way I am glad of the growing omnipresence of certifications of ethical or environmentally sound trading, because it has the two-fold effect of increasing the benefit from people working like this, along with removing it as a USP. I hope this makes sense, though it probably doesn’t.

For this reason we’ve been pretty quiet about the whole coffee bucket thing. That and we wanted to check the valves we put in were working, and that the coffee was aging properly and there were no ill effects in the cup. These days I feel quite bad whenever I pack coffee into disposable packaging, it feels so wasteful – and yet I completely believe and rely upon the benefits of proper packaging for coffee.

buckets for coffee

Roast dated buckets waiting to go out

This brings me onto another subject.


I worry we’ve shot ourselves in the foot as speciality coffee people. We’ve used “fresh roasted” as a tool for sales for so long that I think it might have started to backfire. I really don’t like very fresh coffee. I hate brewing it, it’s a complete pig. I like coffee 7 to 10 days old, I really, really do. Yet the consumer would likely be very disappointed that the coffee was a week old if they bought a bag and it arrived that far off roast. I’ve yet to find a way to brew very fresh coffee that overcomes the challenges of that much CO2 (we are talking espresso here) that I’ve had the acidity where I wanted it very quickly. Then again being this close to coffee so much, and being so analytical, one begins to worry if I even like coffee… (I do – and people like Gwilym are making me happy by pulling shots I can just sit back and enjoy.)


Last one for now – this post is easily long enough already and I don’t want to overdo it…

I am staggered at how good this is. In truth part of me expected it to be ok, but to be more of a novelty than anything else. The first time we brewed it I was a little surprised, and every time since then I’ve come to love it a little more. Having this available is the only reason we left the description of “coffee fruit” in one of the labels because it really is there in the coffee, and being able to taste that – even in a very unusual way – I hope makes a really nice taste connection for people. If we had been opening the cafe sooner (we’re not – perhaps another post when the economic climate doesn’t irk me so much) then we definitely would have been serving this as our ice tea. Aida did an amazing job and I am sure we are one of many companies hoping to see more of it next year.


Delicious dried coffee cherry flesh and skin

Ok. Rant over. Maybe there will be a new post tomorrow, maybe in 2009. Who knows…

Harangue me in the comments….

14 Comments Is dead?

  1. rob berghmans

    Can you believe this same Bodum Columbia Press was my first choice years ago?
    Since that day I tried so many, but always came back this this one. It’s a pleasure to work with.

    Labels look nice.
    I’m curious how people will respond on all the tastes ….

  2. Gabriella

    Mr. Hoffman:

    I am certain I am speaking for many others when I say I hope you do continue to post.

    I am not a coffee professional. I am a home roaster living in a remote region of Canada, trying to learn as much as I can with the goal of producing the best cup of morning coffee I can. Your posts often send me off exploring tangents into coffee realms I was unaware of before reading. If truth be told, perhaps we also enjoy living vicariously through your many interesting endeavours as well.

    Of all the many coffee feeds that land in my inbox, your balanced, interesting, rational postings are the most anticipated. A voice such as yours is rarely heard in this over caffeinated coffee universe.

    So please continue to post, be that sporadically or regularly, whenever the compulsion to write is there.

  3. Steve Penk

    “Of all the many coffee feeds that land in my inbox, your balanced, interesting, rational postings are the most anticipated. A voice such as yours is rarely heard in this over caffeinated coffee universe.” I couldn’t of said it better my self Jim. Please keep posting my friend this coffee world would be much poorer without your comment or take. Sp

  4. The Onocoffee

    I agree with Steve Penk. In our world of coffee professionals, very few (read: almost none) write truly interesting blogs. Most are herky-jerky stream-of-consciousness things and others are just dead and too focused on the minutiae of coffee and “the biz.”

    I’ve always enjoyed this blog for it’s constant query into how things are, as well as the experimentation.

    However, I understand that writing a blog can be a tedious and tiresome endeavour. Take some time for a break and explore other realms. Perhaps you’ll find yourself refreshed and invigorated to write again.

    I do agree with you though on the green question. For us, it’s a matter of offering the highest quality product that we can. That is our promise to our customers. The fact that we source locally, source thoughtfully and follow certain business practices isn’t a marketing tool, it’s just the way we do business. It’s not the exception, it’s the rule.

    All the best.

  5. Matt

    Yes the coffee may taste best at around 7-10 if properly stored, but once they reach their peak, and are opened they stale quicker. Most people who buy coffee aren’t going to come pick up a coffee every three days. If they get a 3 day old coffee, they might not brew it until tomorrow, at 4 days old, wait a week and the coffee is 11 days old, not stale, a bit past peak but generally okay. If they get a coffee further from the roast date though, say 7 days, and don’t perfectly store it each amount, then by that 14 or 15th day the coffee has past its peak, and has been exposed to oxygen. The first day great, by the end of a week, it’s stale.

  6. Logan

    James, I as well hope you continue to post its always an interesting read.
    Also I was wondering how and what you were using to clean the reusable bins.

  7. Ishida

    Hi Jim,

    First of all, sure I don’t want this amazing blog to stop, but I understand we have stages in life, and sometimes you do have time, patience and will to write, sometimes you don’t. So I think you should not worry about the obligation and periodicity of the posts, as long as we (all the readers) know we will find an amazing content here. So, do it as you can.

    Coffee, Labels and Descriptions

    I was complaining about this and specially about “coffee menu” at the coffee shops I’ve been. Nice to see I’m not alone..

    French Press

    I completely agree with you, it’s hard to find people who uses it more than a simple furniture and it harder to find someone who uses it right. Ass a coffee aficionado I’m always trying to teach my friends about home coffee brewers (French Press, Mocca, Drip…)

    Environment, Ethics, Sustainability and Business

    I think you are not wrong thinking this way. As businessmen, we should look both ways, Quality and Sustainability (of the world AND our business)


    I think it depends on the way we “sell” the info. I always told my friends that the coffee must rest for some days to get better tasted. And this is what makes coffee “unique”, each roast will have one only experience, and we need to taste to find the “D-day” of it


    Can you send me some trial? Lol…

  8. Cris Fuzaro


    dont stop! just take ur time and write when u feel like!

    Freshness is something that i always think about. Being a brazilian barista in New Zealand is quite interesting specially because kiwis like to brew espressos with very fresh roasted coffee…but i prefer to rest the coffee for a few days. And when i tell people about resting the coffee everyone looks at me with a funny face!

    Can you explain how the cascara is made??

    Good to see you around again

  9. Frank, Robin

    I am not a coffee professional. I am a home roaster living in a remote region of Canada, trying to learn as much as I can with the goal of producing the best cup of morning coffee I can. Your posts often send me off exploring tangents into coffee realms I was unaware of before reading.

Leave A Comment