Make Decent Coffee at the London Coffee Festival
April 14, 2014
If the London Coffee Festival highlighted anything, it’s that coffee, and by that I mean good quality, artisan coffee, is now mainstream. According to an LCF press release, over 22000 people attended the four days of the festival and queues around the block and a ticket sell-out were testament to both the enduring and growing appeal of coffee.
With the focus on days three and four of the festival on consumers rather than trade business, I made my way to the stand run by Make Decent Coffee and spoke to their head, Phil Smith. Make Decent Coffee is the militant wing of UCC, a large coffee corporation that sells mostly at trade level to companies and the hospitality industry. MDC is their consumer-level group that seeks to engage with the home coffee consumer, both for retail but also, crucially, to help them improve their coffee-making skills.
Phil told me that the crux of Make Decent Coffee’s mission is “taking the mystique out of coffee”, specifically “changing people’s habits around instant coffee”. The stress is on education, but in “a nice way”. Engagement with customers takes place at their level, not assuming any kind of pre-existing coffee knowledge or background, stripping out confusing terminology, so that a farm is a farm and not a finca. This allows customers to learn about coffee without the barriers to entry that required knowledge might present.
MDC roast their coffee with Andronicus in Corby, Northamptonshire, and sell direct to customers online. They don’t yet offer a subscription service as it is felt that the opportunity to choose and experiment is more useful and interesting to coffee neophytes.
An event like the London Coffee Festival is, according to Phil, crucial, not only as an opportunity to sell the brand and its philosophy, but also “to get a feel for the customers and feedback about what they want”. MDC are looking to get involved in events outside of London too, bringing their mission of making great coffee available to all through education and help more widely available.
In a field where knowledge is crucial and where discrete and complex terminology can leave consumers feeling alienated, MDC are at the vanguard of breaking down barriers to having great coffee at home. For me, it is a great approach, one mirrored by the best coffee shops such as Sharps x DunneFrankowski, who place a similar premium on the educational and engagement aspect of serving customers. Buying great coffee is no longer the issue, and with people like MDC and Dunne and Frankowski inspiring coffee consumers as they help them learn, making great coffee is getting easier too. You could buy a good coffee machine, of course, but there are some alternatives for those who prefer to home brew.
I was lucky enough to get behind the MDC bar at the London Coffee Festival too and chat to Matt and Craig, who showed me how to make French Press and V60 coffee easily and better than I was previously managing. Here are their tips:
For three cups, use 45g of fresh, roughly ground coffee and 750g of water. For two cups, use 30g and 500g of water. Always weigh out your coffee pre-grind, and then put the press on a zeroed set of scales to get everything just so. Assuming you are going for two cups, warm the press first with just boiled water, and then tip it out. Add the 30g of coffee and then add 100g of water, pouring against the side of the press rather than directly onto the coffee. This agitates the coffee without scalding it, allowing it to infuse and setting off some of the gases trapped in the coffee. Give the coffee a bit of a stir, and then slowly pour in the remaining 400g of water, again onto the side of the press rather than directly onto the coffee and water mix. When all the water is in, use a spoon to scoop out the ground coffee that has risen to the top. This prevents the coffee from becoming too oily or bitter. Once you’ve done that, push the press bit down slowly. And boom, you have better coffee! The key tricks are weighing, not pouring the water directly onto the grinds, and scooping out what rises.
For the V60, weighing is again of crucial importance. Use 32g of medium to fine ground coffee for 500ml of water, which would be enough for two cups. Wet the filter first, which removes the bleach taste which can cling to some paper filters and heats the cup or server the coffee is going to sit in. Add the coffee to the centre of the filter paper, having discarded the water you used to wet the paper and warm the cup. Make an indentation in the centre of the pile of coffee and pour, slowly, 50g of water into it, making sure the water is at least 30 seconds off the boil. Ideally, use a pourer rather than water straight from the kettle, as it takes the edge off the temperature and allows for a more direct pour. Then agitate the water and coffee mix gently, which again allows some of the gases to escape. You’ll see the bubbling and crowning of the gases as white bubbling when this happens. Once done, gently and slowly pour in the remaining 450g of water in a circular motion around the edges of the mound of grounds. Remember, an even soaking makes for an even extraction, which is what you’re aiming for. This should take a couple of minutes and, at the end of the process, you’ll have beautiful, fresh coffee.
And that’s how simple it is. I hope you’ve found that useful. My thanks to Phil and the team at MDC and the folks at the London Coffee Festival.
Mission Coffee Works, who are not linked to MDC but whose coffee is great and made for a good picture, can be found here.