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Archive for the category “British Coffee Houses”

My favourite coffee, and its a blend!

I realise that in writing this article, it may come across as an advert for a British coffee company. The truth is, I think it has to. No one else has managed to capture the taste experience as well as Rave Coffee based in Cirencester. For the purposes of disclosure, I was involved with Rave Coffee from its inception in the capacity of promotion, but moved aside to look after other business interests as they grew and the company expanded in house.

Master Roaster Rob Hodge, and his wife Vikki, have brought the much needed taste of properly roasted coffee to Britain. That is not to say that other roasters are shabby, far from it, yet Robs international Australian experience of a mature coffee culture, gave new life to the jaded palate of British coffee drinkers.

My introduction to Robs masterful touch with coffee, was in tasting his version of Mocha Java. A blend of Sumatra Mandheling and Ethiopian Sidamo roasted to just bordering on second crack.

I use a Glass vacuum filter coffee maker, and I cannot describe adequately the excitement I felt when I saw the rich one inch thick bloom appear on the coffee as it steeped in the vessel for 50 seconds. When I removed the heat and watched it run through the filter and return to the glass pouring container, I saw the shimmering darkness, yet with a opacity in the colour, and smelled this wonderful coffee aroma perfumed with chocolate and the essence of a spice I could not name, I knew if the taste was anything like the smell I was in for a treat.

It is my habit to leave the coffee for five minutes in the mug to cool a little, and allow the taste to develop through the decreasing temperature range.

The taste. A rich full coffeeness, with an aftertaste of deep chocolate and again the undefine perfume of a delicate spice in the background. There is no bitterness or sharp attack of tannin, it was all a mug of balanced perfection. One of the few coffees that hold, if not improve in the taste to the last drop.

Of all the coffees I have drank, this one, this particulat blend, this matching of two berries by Rave coffee, is the single most outstanding coffee of my choice in many a year. I love it.


Where it started


San Remo Coffee machine

Rob Hodge of RAVE Coffee making a takeaway latte on the San Remo Verona

Coffee origins

The late 1950s saw the resurgence of the coffee drinking trend of which had all but died out. It reinvigorated the love of “the syrup of soot or essence of old shoes” as it was described in the 18th century. England’s first coffee house was established in Oxford in 1650 but it was only two years until a Greek servant named Pasqua Rosee began running a coffee house in Cornhill, and soon there would be dozens of coffee houses in London.

In these coffee shops men would meet, discuss and conclude deals, it could be argued that these establishments sowed the seeds that would put London on course to become Europe’s leading commercial centre. By 1675 a thousand coffee houses were to be found in London and soon became the exclusive clubs of the influential. But by the 1700s England abandoned coffee as the East India Company pushed the domestic market into tea.

It was after the Second World War in 1945 that Gaggia altered the espresso machine to create a high pressure extraction that produced a thick layer of crema that signalled the return of the coffee culture. It was soon to be christened cappuccino for its resemblance to the colour of robes worn by Capuchin monks.

E_PellicciItalians already had a large community around Saffron Hill nicknamed ”Little Italy” but many after being interned during the war drifted westwards, setting up cafes with the distinctive Formica tables and Art Deco chrome Vitrolite exteriors. One of the last examples is E. Pellicci to be found in Bethnal Green Road. From the yellow and chrome Vitrolite exterior to the warm wooden interior this is an unbelievable Deco classic. Every part of this superb cafe should be held in trust for the nation.

It wasn’t long before the boys from Seattle arrived offering their milky concoction far removed from a real Italian cappuccino. Their largest coffee cup at 916ml holds more liquid than a human stomach. So weak is this brew many of their customers have been asking for an extra shot and they have recently announced they intend to put coffee in their coffee. But if a Dark Chocolate Cherry Mocha is your thing – enjoy.

Soho once a French district was to become the centre for Italian coffee culture. By 1953 coffee bars had sprung up. The first was The Moka espresso bar at 29 Frith Street opened by actress Gina Lollabrigida but soon many would follow with their distinctive trend of Formica and real coffee. Only a few doors down from where The Moka opened and just celebrating 60 years in Soho is that most famous coffee bar of all Bar Italia.

So here is the way Italians make their coffee:

If you ask for a “caffè” in a bar in Italy, you would be given an espresso. If you ask for a “latte” in an Italian coffee bar, you will be given a glass of milk.

“Capucco” (“Cappuccino”) is the breakfast drink – Italians can’t understand why you would have a drink containing milk with food later in the day; it doesn’t help your digestion. The perfect cappuccino is served in a cup no bigger than 6fl oz. A third would be coffee, a third steamed milk and third silky-smooth foamed milk. You then drink the black coffee through the steamed and foamed milk. The water hitting the coffee should be between 90°C and 95°C, you should never use boiling water to produce a coffee; using water at 100 °C would smash the flavours.

The shape of the cup is very important. If you have a square-shaped cup with a flat bottom and right angles, when the coffee hits, the crema (the nice golden brown foam on top of an espresso) is dispersed. What encourages the crema to rise to the top of the coffee is the cup shape. If it’s curved-based, often with a nodule at the bottom, it encourages the cream to creep up the sides and on to the top of the coffee, which is where it should be.


British Coffee.

In penning this brief missive, there is a sense of going against the tide of the 3rd wave of coffee enthusiasts. However, writing what is real will stand the test of time.

The majority of British people like filtered coffee. Seconded by a coffee in milk. Way down the list is espresso. Whilst it may be surmised that the British are European, it would be a huge mistake to assume that the average British person has adapted to European tastes or culture.

A cup of coffee to a Brit, has been for many years, a cup of instant, either made with water, or milk. That is never, in the main going to be replaced by a small, expensive 1 ounce shot of black coffee.

With this in mind, and dont get me wrong, I love the good coffee shops, the atmosphere, the choices, the chance to taste different blends and single origins, it is never going to be that an espresso machine will be a standard feature in every home.

So for the average coffee shop visitor, the sales pitch, the smells, the ability to have a coffee in a different form to what is available at home, along with the American hype of the chains, has shaped a unique market for itself. Billions of dollars, Euro’s and Pounds.

To emulate the taste, its going to cost several hundred pounds in equipment that in the main will be sat on your counter and used occasionally. Drinking out is expensive though. 2 latte’s a day is about 20 to 25 pounds a week. 2 cups of filter a day is going to cost @ 15 smackers.

Britain has tasted better coffee than it ever has in the past. However, the chains work to the minimum standard acceptable, and maximise the profits from that on the basis that, its still better coffee than we are used to. As some of the smaller artisan roasters start to take a foothold in the new British Coffee scene, it is hoped that if Britain ever becomes a coffee loving population, they will not go for the bean based solely on cost.

With this mild digression, I return to the subject of this epistle, and state that the future of Coffee in the U.K., unadvertised, to be drunk at home, will be filtered coffee. Let the market leaders do what they will, and say what ever they want in order to direct profits into their corporate accounts and trendy coffee shops, but in the end, the vast majority of U.K. people will reach for a better class of coffee to be made quickly and easily. This will involve getting used to a simple filter machine, placing the appropriate amount of coffee into the receptacle, filling the water jug to the line and switching on. Its only a tad more involved than putting instant coffee into a jar, but the increase in taste and freshness is 100%.

As a coffee lover, it is good to enjoy the taste. For some, like me who have spent the last 28 years with more than a passing interest in the bean and process, it meant at some stage I would have to actually roast my own. Ive roasted in the oven, in a toaster oven, in a pan on the stove, on an open fire in Australia, Africa and America, Ive used a number of commercial Roasters, and lately am using hot air and an adapted BreadMaker. This latter method makes 600-1000 grams at a time and some of the finest tasting coffee ever. You wont know this unless you have a friend who roasts, or know a good artisan roaster. NOTHING beats the excitement of tasting a new coffee from day 5 to 15 and finding where the optimum level in the freshness is.

Wholesale coffee prices are a little lower this year than last year. The only place you will see a lowering or stabilising of prices are from the smaller roasteries. Sadly you will the chains increasing their prices to satisfy their investors and increase the dividends. Quality will not go up.

So, buy a good inexpensive filter coffee machine. A 227 gram bag of FRESH roasted coffee is going to cost about the 4 pound mark. It will make 18 cups of coffee. Thats 22 pence a cup.

We are a frugal lot us Brits. However, we dont mind paying for quality, and coffee is SURPRISINGLY cheap when looked at in these terms.

Time to look at the independent Roasters. It IS cheaper than you think, and then the choice is down to taste. Where the choice should always be.

RAVE Coffee. Unit 7, Stirling Works, Love Lane, Cirencester, GL7 1YG

 Coffee Roasting was not something Rob Hodge ever envisaged in his future. After his marriage to Vikki in 2002, Rob and new wife spent their honeymoon in Australia and developed a love for the country during their stay there. When they returned to the U.K. and went back to their industry Jobs, Rob in Telecoms and Vikki in I.T. they never forgot the country of their dreams.

Working hard and saving money, they finally managed to obtain the elusive visa and moved to Sydney in the late 2000’s. Vikki enrolled as a student in catering and worked her way through the rigorous and tough Australian college system which culminated in her becoming a professional Chef.

Rob and Vikki, always being interested in coffee as a drink, were amazed to find a really outstanding and mature coffee “scene” in Australia, with some of the most knowledgable people on the doorstep.  After discussing between themselves, Rob made the decision to study the subject of coffee making in depth, and looked around for a suitable school/teacher.

 It wasn’t long before the name of Tony Vitello popped up. Now Tony has been around coffee for all of his life and has an unsurpassed reputation as a teacher. Tony is a founder of the Australian Coffee Gang and his successful students are sought after for job placements.

Rob sought out Tony and was accepted on his course. By applying himself diligently, Rob soaked up all the information he could from the Coffee Gang teacher and practiced, practiced and practiced.

 Finishing his professional course, Rob sought more learning and worked with Rob and Dean from the Mona Vale based ROC Café.

At the same time, Rob began a detailed background investigation into roasting proper and worked with some established artisan Roasters. It was here that Rob began to develop a love for the process of taking coffee from its raw state, and roasting it so as to extract its full potential in the cup.

 In the meantime, Rob and Vikki purchased and fitted out a coffee van and serviced the North beaches of Sydney.

Rob was invited to be the only Barista of choice at the Hyde Park event of Australia Day in 2010. Rob served over 7 kilos of coffee between 7am till 2pm on that day.

Robs professional skills continued to be noted, and in February, one month later, he was invited to be barista at TAFF College and powerhouse museum, serving the entire campus.

Moving on with life, a young family, external circumstances dictated that a return to the U.K. was required. Heartbreaking as it was in leaving their beloved Sydney, Rob and Vikki sold the profitable coffee van business. Rob threw himself into intensive final training and knowledge gathering regarding roasting and all things production.

Upon their return to the U.K. The Hodge family ordered a professional Coffee Roasting machine and set up RAVE coffee immediately.  Buying best green coffee from reputable sources only, they worked night and day to produce the Roast profiles for each varietal that Rob had worked so hard on. Working to a strict business plan, and roasting ONLY to orders for best freshness… and working with the worlds leading online purchase company, RAVE coffee has become one, if not THE most noted artisan coffee roasters the UK today.

When you buy a bag of coffee from RAVE, you have the collective knowledge and experience from coffee masters all over the world. No piece of information has ever been discarded by Rob, and only integrated into his practice when he has tested it for himself. Buy RAVE. Taste the difference.

Rave Coffee, Unit 7, Stirling Works, Love Lane, Cirencester, GL7 1YG

For all enquiries:


Office: 01453 832616

Mobile: 07833 532942

The JAVA Coffee House. 1 Charles Street Newport Gwent.

  Neatly off the main Drag in Newport town Centre is a traditional Welsh coffee shop. (In featuring the JAVA coffee house, British Coffee Scene is leaving behind the show and display of Baristas at work.) There is no atmosphere of espresso presentation or the fancy latte art so reminiscent of High street chains. (A short walk to the main street will allow you to sample all the popular chains and the variants they produce.) Should you go with the short trip, you will miss out on some genuinely good coffee.

 Alun Jones, a native of Newport, a chef by profession, and his wife Helen made the decision to run their own business a few years ago. When the opportunity presented itself in 2010, they moved into Charles Street and took hold of their dream.  A bit of a traditionalist, and a man filled with passion for good coffee and food, Alun decided to produce excellent home cooking with his own expertise. Looking in the glass display, I could see plate after plate of creations, all made by him, and with that Welsh heritage in cooking looking back at me. While we were talking, Helen plated up some fresh off the griddle Welsh cakes that Alun had just made. They sell hundreds of these every month in the coffee shop and the demand is growing.

 I wanted to sample a cup of J.C.H. coffee and asked for a flat white. The machine they use is a San Marco twin station with quite a few years on it, but thanks to a loving (read expensive) complete restoration, it is as good as any modern machine on the market. In listening to the tone of the milk being heated, there was no lack of pressure in that baby.

 I watched the pour for my coffee and counted a 26 second total time including a pre infusion for a double. The pour itself was of an excellent quality with rich reddish brown crema filling the cup. The milk is whole milk and steamed a touch hotter (149F) because Welsh people like hot coffee. In tasting the coffee, There is a delicious sense of actually drinking a coffee that is rich and full without the, sadly normal, burnt taste of the chains. The depth and reach of the coffee infused the milk throughout. Now, as a coffee roaster myself, I was intrigued that the quality of the coffee was so high, and asked where he got the beans from. James gourmet coffee from Ross- on- Wye. An excellent job on the roasting Peter James.

 Alun and Helen are not trying to out barista anyone. They are concentrating on the original coffee house theme as developed in the British Isles a few centuries ago. A good coffee (or tea if prefered), a savoury or sweet cake, or indeed an excellent sandwich or light meal. Try the Brie and Bacon with Cranberry Baguette. Oh my gosh.. amazing. In my travels around the British Isles, it is getting harder to find the smaller, but determined, coffee houses of yesteryear. This is somewhere I could bring my family, and have all ages catered for without breaking the bank or be confused by the multitude of coffee variations on the market today. I noticed that the clientele of the morning were all greeted by name and drinks were prepared without asking. Alun said that they have a large repeat business which he puts down to the fact of service at the table and the staff waiting on the needs of the customer so the customer can enjoy themselves and know their wants will be met immediately.

Alun and Helen are genuinely warm and caring people people. Nothing is too much trouble for them. Alun shared with me that he is now going to concentrate on making more traditional Welsh foods and fancies. I see only good things on the horizon.

 Before I left, I was given the recipe for his famous Welsh cake. He doesnt mind sharing anything if you ask. The recipe is only half the answer he said with a twinkle in his eye..”being able to cook it like I do is the secret”.

1 lb self raising flour

8 oz butter

4 oz sugar

4 oz currants

2 eggs

Griddle till done.

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