I drank no coffee at all until my adult years. I turned first to black instant coffee, which I would glug down by the mug full. I eschewed milk and sugar in order to get my stimulant fix without the added calories. In time I moved on to a weird stimulant cocktail called Rocket Fuel, which is an instant coffee infused with guarana. It didn’t taste great but it did taste strong – and at that point that was all I looked for in coffee.
I then managed to buy a cheap espresso machine from Currys. I don’t even know what brand it was, but it was a poor relation of even the lower end Sage and Gaggia machines. I would buy the pre-ground bricks of Lavazza espresso beans from the local supermarket and make only americanos. I would never do anything as sophisticated as time or measure my shots. I would never clean the machine.
Later I discovered flavoured beans. Beans which were infused with artificial flavouring during the roasting process, producing flavours like Irish Cream and Caramel. Amaretto was a favourite. I even started selling these beans at a market, but that was very short-lived. It was around that time that I also discovered Costa Coffee and the like. I eschewed Starbucks on principle for a long time, and later I would maintain this stance based on the quality of the beverage. It took a long time for me to find anything that could be called artisan or Third Wave.
But then I took a trip to Naples, supposedly the birthplace of “suspended coffee“. There I tried my first proper espresso. It was dark and bitter but it was special. It was how coffee was meant to be, even if it was missing some refinement. And for a long time after that I would drink only espresso. Back in England I was able to find good quality, single-origin espresso for the first time. Tasting notes moved beyond chocolate and caramel. It was an eyeopener.
A prize awarded to me by a prestigious law firm (for an essay which featured ethics in the sale of coffee) allowed me to treat myself to a new coffee machine. A Sage Duo Temp Pro, paired with a Sage Smart Grinder Pro. And now I use this set-up, together with the finest beans I can find in the UK, to continue my adventure in coffee.
I would place myself in the category of enlightened novice. I have started to know what it is that I don’t know. I can now make consistent shots, I can steam milk, and I can put the two together; but a perfect latte art tulip is beyond me. I can’t roast my own beans, nor can I reliably identify the relevant flavours in my single-origin favourites. I am hoping to continue this journey to fill these gaps in my knowledge. Like any pursuit of expertise, I think it will probably never truly end. I hope that this website will document my knowledge and – in time – showcase my own contributions to the Third Wave world. Whatever they may be.