News from the shops
Our Man Dan In Barcelona
As anyone who has been into one of our shops knows, Small Batch is a big fan of La Marzocco and the fantastic espresso machines they manufacture. Our relationship with La Marzocco has taken us to all kind of events over the years; from the high-paced, caffeine-crazed London Coffee Festival to the annual Out Of The Box event, this year hosted in Milan. Out of the Box is La Marzocco’s signature event, which brings players from the global coffee community together for a one of a kind event where the community can converse on all things coffee. Whether this be unveiling new and progressive technologies or Q&A panels and interactive workshops with key industry figures, it’s a must-attend event with a huge side serving of live music, beer and food to make it even more of a necessity.
Out of the Box is such a key event in the calendar because it brings together a community that, although able to communicate freely through social media, is so geographically scattered it’s rare to talk over a beer or five. One thing I love about working within speciality coffee is that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s rather infantile and as a community we’re learning something everyday. Coffee’s capabilities, along with an incredibly passionate workforce who can continuously keep in touch online, has meant that speciality coffee is an open book with many authors. It’s one thing reading chapters of this book alone off your computer but quite another to read aloud together. This sentiment is what made my recent trip to Barcelona so fulfilling.
Small Batch were invited to be the first UK roaster of the month, or Tostador Del Mes, at La Marzocco’s ‘True Artisan Café’) in their Barcelona showroom. An ideal setting for both an espresso machine showroom and speciality coffee shop, True Artisan Café has done a stellar job at getting roasters from all over Europe in their hopper and on the brew bar. Such variety has allowed its patrons to try a diverse range of origins, processing methods and roasting styles on regular rotation. If variety is the spice of life, then True Artisan Café is on fire! Seeing as we were the first UK roaster to be served there, I was lucky enough to take a trip over and represent Small Batch for the first part of our residency. Not only was I able to talk about our coffees face to face, I was also able to demonstrate how we’ve pulled the best out of these cup profiles. Whether that be the syrupy toffee like qualities of the Guatemala La Cuchilla as an espresso or the buttery body and peachy aftertaste of a Mexico Finca Muxbal iced pour over. My trip culminated in a Brewers Cup Demo on my final night and was a perfect way to pull together all the faces I’d met over the week for a brewing master class.
Elisabet Sereno, National Coordinator of Spain for the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) and distributor for La Marzocco Spain, is True Artisan’s queen bee. After meeting her at London Coffee Festival, I couldn’t wait to get to know her even more and go see what Barcelona has on offer. Elisabet is one of a kind and is doing a fantastic job pulling in all these different roasteries and organising regular events that bring the local coffee community together. I spent a few days visiting the different speciality shops within Barcelona but felt like I met just as many people within the community from sitting in the café sending emails and nursing a long black. You know how they say the ‘kitchen is the heart of the home’, well True Artisan Café felt like the nicest, friendliest, most well equipped kitchen this small community of coffee houses could wish for. I’d take ten La Marzocco machines over a cooker and fridge/freezer any day!
I arrived at the café early afternoon and way too over dressed for the Barcelona heat; jeans, boots and shirt, I was a hot sweaty mess and needed to pull out the shorts and t-shirt before I’d even had my espresso. Which, I feel I should add, was one of the best espresso’s I’ve had; not only was it a boozy rich natural Yirgacheffe (courtesy of ‘IAMay’ Coffee Roasters from Madrid – website under construction) but I’d travelled over 700 miles to have my morning coffee. Well worth the wait. If this wasn’t enough to put a Chesire cat grin across my face, I got to meet one of True Artisan’s barista, Irene. The biggest Back to the Future fan ever; with her back tattoo of the DeLorean and encyclopaedic knowledge of the franchise, we were dancing to Huey Lewis and The News before my trip was over.
Not only was Irene an absolute treasure, she was a fantastic and thoroughly engaged barista who understood the nuance’s of all the different coffees that were coming through the cafe. True Artisan Café has a much more chilled pace than many of the city centre coffee shops I’ve been to before. This allowed Irene to meticulously prepare each coffee using the Acaia Pearl digital scales and app, Mahlkonig Tanaznia and La Marzocco Vulcano grinders, a vast array of brewing methods and a beautiful space-aged La Marzocco Mistral to pull some beautiful shots off. This laid-back vibe combined with a scrupulous approach to producing each drink was a common occurrence throughout the speciality scene in Barcelona. Nowhere more so than Nomad Coffee.
‘Nomad Coffee Productions’ began life as a coffee cart (sound familiar?) in London’s East End. The brainchild of Jordi Mestre, Jordi originally ran the Nomad cart for just over a year before starting work as a roaster and barista trainer with Nude Espresso. In 2013, Jordi left London and came back to his native Barcelona to start up Nomad again and what a smart move that was. Nomad really is at the forefront of Barcelona’s ‘third wave’ coffee movement. Let’s be shallow and go on aesthetics alone; the walkway down to their coffee shop and lab on Passatge Sert is absolutely stunning and even if you didn’t know that Nomad was awaiting you, your feet automatically pull you down there.
Halfway down, in an almost courtyard like bright spot, you reach the shop, with its sandstone façade and just the right amount of greenery; it pulls you in. The design inside captures Nomad’s character perfectly, it feels lab like without feeling clinical, informal without being preachy, enough visual flair for you to admire and absorb whilst being reminded that the star of this show is the coffee. I walked in to find baristas Marco and Francisco cupping several coffees and was gutted to find that public cuppings are put on a hold during the summer months.
Besides the shop and lab, Nomad also operates their own roastery a 5 minute drive away (or 15 minute walk in my case). Everything I’ve said about the shop could be applied to the ‘Roasters’ Home’, especially the fact that it avoids feeling clinical even though its minimalist interior could easily allow its slip into that territory. It’s a treat and I’m glad I made the trip. Nomad is a perfect example of this ‘third wave’ movement where a small independent has real passion for all stages of the coffee process, from coffee seed to cup. By being their own roaster, Nomad can display full transparency on their coffees origin, sourcing and roasting methods. Finish that off with some fantastic baristas who really know their craft and you’ve got a winner. Over my visits I had a syrupy fruit and nut-esque Brazilian espresso, a punchy current like Kenyan filter and a ridiculously clean and refreshing cold brew with nectarine soda.
Another stand out was ‘Satan’s Coffee Corner’ on Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call. The baby of proud Daddy Marcos Bartolome, Satan’s first appeared on the Barcelona scene in 2012 as a hole in the wall style concession within a gift a shop before moving operations to a bike shop a year later. Thanks to Marcos drive and ambition, it’s been a good few years for Satan’s as it now fills a lovely and rather large space in the Barri Gotic neighbourhood. As you walk in, on the left, there’s a row of yellow benches, with an impressive collection of potted cactuses displayed above, which directly faces the espresso machine; a rather beautiful La Marzocco FB70 which has had its ‘skin’ removed to show the inner skeleton and mechanics. It looks awesome. Having the outer layer removed is something than ran throughout Satan’s aesthetic. A hole in the wall counter is taken one step further by removing the whole wall and having a black steel skeleton instead and the kitchen area is completely exposed with breakfast and lunch dishes being made in front of patrons. If Nomad had an educational and informative edge, Satan’s offered up something that felt more buzzing and communal, almost cantina like. Even though it’s now a fully operational coffee shop inhabiting its own space, its hole in the wall style origin story seemed to still play a big part in its success. I perched myself at the central island in the main seating area and watched people come and go. It seemed like a huge chunk of people who came in either sat on the yellow benches and had a quick catch up coffee with the staff and other friendly faces, or they were simply stopping by for a take away coffee. This mix of people nursing a drink with some food, drinks to go and short stop offs by regulars really gave the place a welcoming buzz.
Satan’s also introduced me to a fantastic local roaster called ‘Right Side Coffee’. Right Side can be found just outside of Barcelona in Castelldefels but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the train journey over. However, my experience at Satan’s definitely did them proud. I opted for a double espresso; they were serving Monte Bonito Colombia Caturra at the time. It was a silky and bright coffee with really crisp apple like taste notes and a rich almond aroma. It was a fantastic representation of the light roasting style of Right Side and made my tongue pop with all these qualities. Like Nomad, Right Side are a perfect example of a roaster that really “care about their traceability, social and environmental sustainability and transparency… coffees are selected under a quality criterion based on finding extraordinary flavours provided by its variety, “terroir”, a careful care in cultivation, production and transportation”
I was to come across Right Side a day later when I stopped by ‘Skye Coffee Co.’. Named after its founder, Brit Skye Maunsell, Skye Coffee operates out of a 1972 Citreon HY Van. Not just any HY Van but the most beautifully restored HY van you could imagine. I had to hold myself back from gushing too much but inside I was in total awe. Skye Coffee is a perfect embodiment of how ‘third wave’ coffee shops can operate successfully in a non-conventional commercial environment. From 9am – 1.30pm, the van is housed at ‘Espacio 88’ on Carrer Pamplona; a large warehouse like space used for film production, art and design events, photo shoots and private bookings, I was really taken in by Espacio 88 as a space to house a mobile coffee van. Cavernous, calm and chic, when I arrived, closer to the 1.30pm cut off, it felt chilled in a way a church can. Maybe equating coffee to religion says more about me than I’d like! When not at Espacio 88, Skye Coffee can be found at different events and pop-ups throughout the city, just check their social media sites for news and updates. Skye made me a pleasingly acidic espresso courtesy of Right Side but she also discussed how she is a fan of bringing in roasters on a global scale, most recently serving London’s own Workshop. Here’s hoping Small Batch will be on that roster soon.
Nomad, Satan’s and Skye are by no means the only places in Barcelona serving fantastic coffee but I highlighted these because not only did I get to talk to owners, managers and baristas but I loved their love of lighter roast profiles and felt like they could open in London, Brighton, Manchester, anywhere with a great speciality coffee scene, and could easily become great successes. Other places I stopped by on my trip that warrant a visit include Caravelle, Federal, Cometa, Slow Movs, Slice of Life and Coffeea and Wood. A special mention goes to ‘Onna Coffee’ on Carrer Pujades in the Gracia neighbourhood. Onna Coffee is a café, roaster and also a green bean wholesaler owned and operated by the wonderful Anahi Paez. Originally from Costa Rica, Ana has a clear objective; to only roast and serve Costa Rican coffees. It’s an admirable mission statement and one that is working really well for her. Her roast profile is slightly darker than the light-medium profiles of Nomad and Right Side but is the perfect compromise between the bright, floral, citric acidity of lighter roasts and the smoky woody bitterness of darker roasts.
Whilst doing the rounds, I noticed how much of an important part La Marzocco plays in all of this. The majority of these shops were working off La Marzocco’s, whether that be Nomad’s Strada or Skye’s Linea PB, and Elisabet knew all the characters in the community. I’ve always loved how La Marzocco is able to pull in many different roasters and shops into its events in the UK and it’s great to see this being evident in their Spanish operations also. This community-based ethos came to fruition when La Marzocco, Small Batch and Bramby Supply Company hosted the Brewers Cup Demo on my final night in the city. Bramby Supply Company is named after its owner Bramby and he is quite the craftsman, making handmade denim selvedge leather goods. The online shop holds a selection of his wares, including aprons, wallets and phone cases. A laid back and informal evening, the demo was a huge success and most of the faces I’d encountered over the week turned up to either take part or support the event. As a sponsor, we supplied participants with our current Guatemalan offering from Finca Villaure in La Cuchilla and they had to go head to head with another barista and use either an aeropress, V60, French press, chemex or syphon to make the best brew possible.
I absolutely love this coffee and have been drinking it at work and at home since it arrived at the roastery, but what a treat it was to have it brewed by so many baristas in varying ways. After a couple of rounds, it came down to three baristas competing for the top spot. The winner was Evgeny, a local barista and baker who used a chemex to create the winning cup. Balanced, crisp, incredibly aromatic, sweet and plummy, it was a perfect example of this beans capabilities. Once the business of tasting, judging and awarding winners was through, out came the beers and massive tasty pizza that we’ve come to eagerly expect at La Marzocco events. It was the ideal evening for people within the coffee community; we got to drink loads of coffee, talk about the progression of speciality coffee in Barcelona and get to know each other a bit more.
This harkens back to my sentiments at the beginning of this post; that it’s one thing to communicate online but when you can get a group of us together, it can be so rewarding and for me as an ‘outsider’, it was a great representation of where the scene is and where the key players in the scene want it to go. I’m looking forward to what’s in store for Barcelona and speciality coffee. There’s baristas who are dead set on opening their own shops and pre-existing shop owners and roasters wanting to expand current operations. However, Elisabet tells me that getting a permit to open a coffee shop is incredibly hard and governmental support for independent entrepreneurship is severely lacking. Either way, Barcelona has a public who want more good coffee the more they are exposed to it. Sometimes, all it takes is one good experience with a light to medium roasted bean for you to have your mind blown and senses opened up to the world of speciality coffee. The more people who discover that there is more to coffee than the standard dark roast and overly steamed UHT milk of a café con leche, the faster this scene will thrive. More custom allows the owners and roasters to source more amazing coffees and support the fantastic work done by the farmers at origin. Continued support from the consumer also means that these roasters and cafes can continue to educate staff and let quality thrive and also aids transparency and sustainability in the sourcing of green beans. Hopefully Spain will progress with the same vigour and vitality that the UK has and that all these aspiring proprietors, roasters and baristas get to continue living the dream. I was honoured to be a part of it.