Boughton’s new book!

June 19, 2018

This blog has been silent since I retired from running our news magazine about coffee… but I have been recording and writing, and now the new book is out!

How did a local musician come to record a million-seller, but see no fame or money from it? That is one of the many curious stories in a new book by a well-known North Norfolk guitarist and writer.
‘Are You With the Band?’ is by Ian Boughton of Dilham, Norfolk (UK), who played and recorded with over seventy bands in his career, and can still occasionally be seen with the Muddy Broad Blues Band and the Occasional Ceilidh Band. His new book tells how he played both on big stages and in the roughest pubs and clubs, without ever making it big as a musician, and as a journalist interviewed a variety of stars… and even met such people as the old soldier who discovered the secret of what made Stradivarius violins sound so wonderful. At the end of it all, the writer asks – if he had so much fun as a musician who never made it, could being a success have been any better?
This little book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who plays in a band or performs in public. There are many points to think about, many tips, many contentious issues, and a laugh on virtually every page. This is a slim volume which packs a surprisingly vast amount into its 60 pages… 22,000 words, and countless super stories.
Early reviews have said:
“Made me laugh out loud… a very enjoyable and consuming read.”
“Great pace, and lyrical. A book needs rhythm, and this has it.”

‘Are You With the Band?’ is priced at £3.95, and is available from the Music Hut in North Walsham, Norfolk, Empire Music in Stalham, and the Pleasure Boat Inn at Hickling Broad. If it makes any profit, which is highly unlikely, a donation will be made to the Hillside Animal Sanctuary; those who receive a copy as a gift are invited to buy a bale of hay for the animals at that rescue centre. Enquiries to ianfboughton (at)



World coffee shortage – just another scare story?

October 7, 2015

The international press has been quick to leap on this week’s news that there is likely to be a world coffee shortage at some time in the next thirty years, and maybe as soon as next year – no less an authority than Andrea Illy, chairman of the big Italian brand, is reported to have said so to the Bloomberg international business news agency.  This is a story which has cropped up regularly over the last ten years – and one of the UK’s major coffee bean importers has called it ‘nonsense’.

According to Bloomberg, rising global consumption of coffee means that global production will have to rise by an extra 40 to 50 million bags over the next ten years. Bloomberg has quoted the chairman of Illy as saying that this is more than the entire crop of Brazil, and that the world needs ‘another Brazil’ to be able to cope.

“Sooner or later, in months or years, we’ll have to make a bold decision about what to do,” Illy is reported to have said in an interview. “We don’t know where this coffee will come from.”

It was reported just over a month ago by a big European coffee trader that the global industry will see a production deficit of 3.5 million bags in the 2015-16 season. Against this, the International Coffee Organization has said that demand will increase by nearly 25 per cent over the coming five years, and another European coffee merchant has put the likely increase at one-third more by 2030 – however, he suggested that production might rise to meet consumption if smallholder farmers can increase productivity.

At the same time again, there are more fears about what climate change is doing to coffee farmers. This is not a new subject, either – the International Coffee Organisation held a seminar on it a clear ten years ago. However, it is now suggested that climate change is endangering farmers in Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico, and that the  balance of global production may shift from Central America to the Asia-Pacific region or eastern parts of Africa, where crops can be grown at higher altitudes.  The chief executive of Nespresso has already commented that he sees more and more farmers moving to higher mountain altitudes to try and escape the effects of warming.

In addition, Oxfam has now spoken of the likely effect on crops from another ‘El Niño’ weather phenomenon, and even the prospect of a ‘super El Niño’.

However, and by sharp contrast, the British coffee importer Stephen Hurst of Mercanta has told us, with typical forthrightness, that he believes these stories to be the result of misunderstandings of the global situation. He  appears to agree with the European coffee merchant who referred to the possibility of increased productivity.

“It is a complete nonsense, made even more so in that a respected expert such as Dr Illy would lead credibility to such speculation and sensationalism,” he told us. “I find all this talk quite extraordinary, as I have been hearing it the thirty years I have been in the business.

“Really, the underlying issue to the coffee market in the future is yield. It is as with the Malthusean theory, which held that the world would run out of food due to population growth… but vast improvements in yield have now shown the sorry state of that theory, despite huge population growth.

“It is yield improvement in coffee which will be the factor, and that is simply not gaining enough credence. Climate change may well benefit as many areas as detriment others.

“Brazil is just about to harvest possibly a record 60 million bags in 2016, and Colombia continues to improve their harvest following the defeat of roya (the pest which attacks coffee plants). In theory, Peru could produce more high-mountain Arabica coffee than Colombia – and Honduras already produces more Arabica coffee than Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua combined!

“So I am not a subscriber to this sensationalism – I am honestly surprised it has gained relatively serious credence.”

This story originally appeared earlier today on Caffe Connect, the news and feature website allied to the Caffe Culture trade show.

“So I am not a subscriber to this sensationalism – I am honestly surprised it has gained relatively serious credence.”

This story originally appeared earlier today on Caffe Connect, the news and feature website allied to the Caffe Culture trade show.

Coffee and beverage trade association plans relaunch

July 10, 2015

The Beverage Standards Association is to undergo a re-launch. At its AGM in Lichfield next week, the new chairman will set out a programme of ideas intended to create a trade association which will mean something to the everyday caterer, and which will feature some surprising aspects – including the suggestion that the City and Guilds VRQ in barista skills should be seen as the absolute minimum standard for anyone whose job is the service of hot beverages.
Steve Slark 4a lowres
The new chairman is Steve Slark (above), the managing director of European Watercare.

“I am not a typical trade association person,” he told us. “I recently went to a meeting of another trade association in this industry which I visited for the first time in seven years, to find that nothing had changed, with the same people still pushing the same interests, and the same people still slapping each other on the back.

“In the BSA, we are an association with new ideas, and I think they are all do-able.”

Among his first intentions are to re-vamp the BSA’s café accreditation scheme, and give new emphasis to the BSA’s training efforts.

The Association was a prime mover in the establishment of the City and Guilds VRQ in barista work, which was recently the subject of a slightly dismissive comment by a famous coffee-house chain, which had launched its own training scheme. That chain made the remark that: ‘there is a VRQ course in barista skills, but it is basic – we want an apprenticeship whereby a graduate could walk into any of the best cafes in the world and be able work alongside their baristas’.

Rather than being upset by this, the new BSA chairman says that this just shows how all the different levels of the trade have to be catered for, and in response argued that a vast amount of work is still needed in the great mainstream trade.

“There are many facets to coffee, and while I understand the role of Q-Graders and those at that level, I also see that there is a vast beverage industry which is made up of people who are given a few hours’ training, and are then expected to go out there and keep customers happy.

“For them, this is very much like getting a driving licence – you get the licence before you get to build up the experience. Here, we are representing the ‘common man’ of the coffee industry, and some of our industry training is for the aspiring world champions and is not for Joe Bloggs at the local garden centre coffee shop. So… does a City and Guilds qualify me for a job at Ozone… or indeed, does it over-qualify me for a job at certain chains?

“This brings up the interesting question of who this industry is catering for – just for the ones with the well-developed palates, or for the masses with a taste for decent coffee? I am looking right across the board – I want to see the BSA helping raise standards in any kind of café.”

To this end, he has made the challenging suggestion that the BSA and C&G standards must be promoted as the absolute minimum level for anyone serving hot beverages.

“Basic City and Guilds training should be a compulsory minimum for all users of traditional coffee machines when used to generate revenue for the majority of coffee providers, such as high street cafes, garden centre cafes and the like. The City and Guilds NVQ course offers everything that the industry should aspire to as a minimum standard.”

Very much the same kind of thinking goes into the re-styling of the BSA’s accreditation scheme. This project, while it was originally developed with the creditable aim of recognising cafes who prepare their drinks in accordance with industry best-practice, suffered from a little over-enthusiasm when it was launched as ‘the Oscars of the beverage trade’ (every industry award is now described as the Oscars!) As a result, the intention of highlighting cafes who make hot beverages in the best prescribed manner got rather lost, and the scheme never did win widespread attention.

Steve Slark proposes to draw attention back to the question of mainstream industry standards, making accreditation more accessible, and more recognised among the trade and the public.

“It’s clear to me that we have to be opening up the entire industry for possible accreditation, and at a reduced application cost. I want anyone who is interested in serving a decent standard of tea and coffee to be able to apply for this, and to be able to display a recognition as being someone who cares about serving beverages the right way.

“It all needs to be more contemporary, to become a respected accreditation.”

Rather unexpectedly, he will bring back the concept of trade shows. The BSA used to have an annual show, and gave up the idea after that event finally wheezed to a slow death… but the new chairman sees a different way.

“I shall propose two pop-up trade events, at low cost to the participant members.

“In a sense, this idea is creative plagiarism – I recently went to a very interesting trade exhibition, which consisted of thirty or forty exhibitors, each of whom was allowed little more than a table-top. The event began with a speaker, then the show opened at mid-day, and packed up around five.

“It cost each exhibitor very little, and it wasn’t a whole day out of the lives of those involved. You throw your rep in the car to work a one-day pop-up, settle on a formula that works, and move it round the country.

“People have been ‘exhibited out’, and are fed up of wasting a whole week and a vast amount of money on two-day shows. I thought – ‘this is the way exhibitions should go’.”
Rather unexpectedly, the BSA now also has international ambitions, and may open up partner organisations in Scandinavia and Ireland. What is it about the BSA that inspires these people to start up something similar?

“I have had expressions of interest,” confirms Steve Slark. “In some ways, Ireland has been in front of the UK in speciality coffee, and they are running the World of Coffee event in Dublin next year. In other aspects, we have been ahead of them. The same applies to Scandinavia – I’ve spent a lot of time out there as well, and while the perception of the area is that it is certainly one of the leading coffee regions of the world, again we have the question of who represents the common man of the industry, as opposed to the elite or the geeks.”

Such activity from an incoming chairman is, Steve Slark acknowledges, slightly revolutionary.

“A lot of feedback from BSA members is that they don’t see us out and about, doing things. I am of the opinion that the BSA should speak out on matters, I want the trade to see that we are doing things, and so this is, in a way, a re-launch for us.”

New UK move on coffee-capsule waste

May 11, 2015

A British-led initiative has made a big step in one of the biggest environmental subjects in recent years, the question of coffee capsule waste. The Marley brand now has the first ‘truly biodegradable’ coffee capsule, so much so that it is also the first edible capsule.

Andrew Richardson and the edible capsule low res
Andrew Richardson with the ‘edible’ capsule

The impact of Nespresso-type capsules on the environment has reached a level at which the numbers involved are almost impossible to comprehend – it is now said that Nespresso sold an estimated 28 billion capsules worldwide in one year, thus possibly putting up to 28 million kilos of aluminium into landfill, and that one in three American homes has a capsule coffee machine. In that country, the similar and market-leading K-Cup product sold enough capsules last year to circle the globe ten times, and it is suggested that they also ended up in landfill.

Even the inventor of the capsule concept, who expected the product only to be used in offices, has now said that having seen the waste impact of his product, he regrets creating it – today, he only drinks filter coffee.

This month, three British operators are involved in the launch of what may be the most environmentally-acceptable capsule yet. Andrew Richardson, the independent authority and consultant on capsules, and the British arm of the Marley coffee brand are bringing to market the first ‘edible coffee capsule’.

Andrew Richardson is an ex-Nespresso executive, and since working with that brand has made a name as an independent advisor to other brands looking to work with capsules; Marley coffee is the brand set up by the family of the late reggae star to work with coffee produced on their farm in Jamaica. The other British involvement is by Masteroast, who roast and pack the coffee.

The fourth member of the team is the European inventor Gabriele Degli-Esposti, the man who conceived the concept of the ‘edible’ capsule, and who indeed actually created a Moka pot version of the same thing late last year.

The concept of an ‘edible’ coffee capsule is of course an attention-getting device – Guy Wilmot of the Marley brand acknowledges that the ‘edible’ status is simply a way of highlighting that the product has extremely high environmental credentials. The only question mark at present is the film on top of the capsule, which is not edible, but that does not necessarily detract from the claim of a ’world first’.

“Yes, it’s not being edible that’s really important. Being edible shows it’s really all-natural, it’s food-safe, and shows how biodegradable it is. And the coffee inside is organic.

“The lid is not biodegradable, but is easily recyclable in any home. The ‘world first’ comes from the fact that this is the first truly biodegradable capsule – it really does biodegrade in 90 days, unlike ‘bioplastic’ capsules which take years to biodegrade. This is real.”

How will the consumer and the trade dispose of these things? The consultant Richardson has said that home consumers can simply put spent capsules in their rose beds.

“Ideally, it can be put in your domestic compost or vegetable matter,” agrees Guy Wilmot. “Caterers can put it in their food waste recycling, which is common in most UK cities. But, even if it goes to landfill, it biodegrades rapidly, so disposal is not a problem.”

The Marley brand, whose American chief executive visited London this month to see the development for himself, is unlikely to launch the product with extreme razzamatazz – at least, not just yet.

“Right now, our interest is in a soft launch, presenting this unique capsule offering to buyers,” explains Guy Wilmot. “We have to explain it both from an ecological and biodegradable point of view, and also a cup profile point of view. The coffee from this capsule flows well, produces an excellent crema, and has real character and great taste. And it matches Marley’s vision for having a truly sustainable coffee company.

“Later on in the year, the real launch will be coming at Anuga, the trade fair in Cologne, where Marley Coffee is exhibiting. This will be the classic David v. Goliath!”

There have been several very recent environmental claims elsewhere in support of capsules from other brands, notably the announcement by a Canadian company that it proposes to have ‘the world’s first compostable capsule’, working on the American Keurig system, by the autumn. Marley’s new capsules are in the Nespresso-compatible format, but their manufacturing principle can be applied to all kinds of single-serve capsule formats.

“The comparison that begs to be made at the moment,” says Andrew Richardson, “is with all the companies who are coming out to announce that they have bio-plastic capsules, or have plans to come out with them – whichever way you cut it, bio-plastics take a long time to degrade, and we do not know to what degree they degrade.

“Our capsule, being of paper components, is white dust in three months; the acidity in the coffee helps it degrade. It is conscience-free to throw away. We have a capsule which is so biodegradable that you can eat it… if you should want to!

“We have created the capsule which does not present a waste problem.”


Boughton’s Coffee House is the leading news medium for the British coffee trade – read the magazine and sign up for regular news updates at

Durham coffee inventor becomes star of the barista world

May 2, 2015

Push tamper

The biggest competition in the coffee industry, the World Barista Championship, has produced an unlikely British star – someone who was not even taking part in the contest.

The British representative in the this year’s world finals in America was the UK barista champion, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Bath, who finished a very creditable fifth in the world placings. However, Maxwell’s performance and presentation to the judges have had the effect of propelling a British operator to overnight international fame – his use of the Push tamper, created by Peter Southern of Clockwork Espresso in Durham, excited so much interest that the inventor’s website crashed through heavy traffic.

A ‘tamper’ is one of the most vital pieces of equipment in the espresso world. It is used to compress coffee grounds into a firm ‘cake’ in a filter basket, before hot water is passed through to brew the coffee. Good tamping can make all the difference between a tasty espresso and a horrible one, and the skill of correct tamping technique is widely discussed among baristas.

The Push is said to give a barista a new degree of control over the tamping of coffee – it guarantees a perfectly level bed, which is important for the way the water flows through the coffee, and a manageable depth of coffee, which is equally important. However, it is also promoted as allowing a safer and more natural posture while tamping.

This is because it has no handle. Virtually all other tampers have a vertical wooden handle, and the conventional technique is for the barista to lean over the tamper, pushing downwards with a twisting motion of the wrist – this is blamed for a number of repetitive strain injuries and discomfort.

By contrast, the Push tamper has no handle, is about the size and shape of an ice-hockey puck, and can be held conveniently between fingers and thumb.

There is an odd story behind its invention.

“The company I work for had a very nice commercial espresso machine in the office,” Peter Southern told us. “I had worked as a barista before, so I could make great coffee for myself, and everyone else asked me to show them how to do it. The great problem was that their tamping was never level, which frustrated them, so I set about designing a tamper which would help them.”

He showed his work to the UK barista champion over a Skype video link.

“I held the tamper up to the camera to show him how it worked, and he said ‘can I have one?’ He had some suggestions, and the call was on a Friday, so I worked all weekend at the lathe, getting the measurements correct to the millimetre, and he said ‘I’ll use it in the competition’.”

The reaction when Maxwell used it in the world championships was quite extreme. Those around the world watching the contest on video link kept posting comments online, asking about the strange new tamper; Peter Southern, who was in America helping Maxwell prepare for the contest, replied referring enquirers to his website, which crashed under the level of traffic.

There is as yet no word as to when the Push will be on general sale. Peter Southern has filed the patent on the item, but is not being rushed into production or distribution, nor will he be drawn on the likely price of the item. For the moment, he is simply accepting ‘expressions of interest’.


Story by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, the leading news site for the British coffee trade.

Britain’s cafes and coffee houses reach ‘amazing’ standards

December 2, 2014


Mike Haggerton, winner of the Best Overall Café Experience

Seven cafes have qualified to win ‘Five Cup’ status in the Beverage Standards Association’s annual accreditations, which seek to find the venues serving the best coffee and tea in the UK. The right to display a ‘Five Cup’ window sticker signifies that a venue makes all its hot beverages perfectly, in accordance with the industry’s best practice.
It is already reckoned that the top British cafes serve the best coffee in the world, and according to the BSA, the standard of all hot beverages served in cafes across the UK has now reached an extremely high standard.
“The UK beverage industry is one of the finest in the world,” says the BSA’s executive director, Martyn Herriott. “The venues that have achieved success in this year’s programme have done so because they have excelled in every area – outstanding customer satisfaction and service, the finest equipment and ingredients, and dedicated staff.”
The top individual prize in the annual awards is the Best Overall Experience title, which has been won by Mike and Jan Haggerton of the Habitat café in Aberfeldy.
“Their tea offering is meticulous, their espresso is delivered with precision, and their attention to detail is breathtaking,” says the BSA. “And this is done not in the bright lights of a major city or a large town, but in a small town in Perthshire. They have showcased the best our industry has to offer, and achieved testament to what can be done wherever you choose to do it, if you believe in it enough.”
The Bean and Bud café of Harrogate won the Raising Standards award, which signifies significant progress for a café – they won a Four Cup award last year, and made the difficult jump to Five Cups this year.
“They work tirelessly to create a little mecca to serving the perfect beverage,” said the BSA judges. “Their Best Tea award is testament to that – they are focused on a level of preparation that is meticulous, weighing the tea to 0.1 of a gramme, using filtered water at the correct temperature for every brew, using exactly the right level of water, and timing the brew.
“The last ten per cent in the pursuit of excellence is the hardest, and Ruth and Hayden have gone from a four-cup venue last year to a five-cupper in true style, built on determination to be the best they can.”
The Best Newcomer award was won by Cotswold Artisan of Cirencester. Barry and Mandy Cook’s café is a new business, although the couple used to run a successful coffee shop in Swindon.
“It takes a lot of guts to up-sticks, re-invest, re-focus and re-brand a business, come back stronger and more determined to succeed the way they have. They have also been through the mill in the initial resistance to their business (there was the usual local reaction to ‘another coffee shop’).”
The BSA offers individual prizes for various ‘best drinks’ – what is it that lifts one cafe’s cappuccino and latte above the rest of the entire country?
“Our findings this year are that amazing standards are being achieved on high streets all over the UK every day. An outstanding drink is a sensory experience which is based on the product used and a technical ability to get the very best out of it in taste and texture.
“The two winners of ‘best espresso’ (Timberyard of London and Cotswold Artisan) both delivered a challenging and stunning espresso where they had clearly demonstrated they were in control of the sum of the parts.
The ‘best flat white’ award went jointly to Kaffeine of London and Taylor St Baristas of Brighton; the best latte was by Rhode island Coffee of Stockport, and the best cappuccino by Pumphreys of Newcastle. Perhaps unexpectedly, the best filter prize went to an exceptionally busy café – Taylor St Baristas’ Monument branch in London. The best hot chocolate was served by Googies Art Café, of Folkestone.
In spite of the high standards shown by these winners, says the BSA, there are still gaps in the British tea and coffee industry – there are still some who are not trying for the best. To the dismay of the judges, no café at all was nominated this year from Wales.
“The accreditation process has grown in stature, but we all know that sometimes people and businesses do not ‘get it’,” says the BSA. “One aim now is to promote the venues that are delivering exceptional standards, to show what a good job looks like and how to aspire to it. There are now a tremendous number of businesses creating brilliant drinks around the country every day – every café should be inspired to raise their standards to that level.”
In the general section of the BSA accreditations, seven cafes have qualified to display the ‘Five Cup’ status, signifying that they make all drinks according to the industry’s best practice. These were Bean & Bud of Harrogate, Cotswold Artisan Coffee of Cirencester, Habitat Café of Aberfeldy, Timberyard of Seven Dials, London, Pumphreys Brewing Emporium of Newcastle, the Apple Tree of Barton-under-Needwood and Taylor St Baristas, Brighton.
All the top cafes had four features in common – some of their drinks were good enough to be nominated for a ‘best drink’ award, each of them offered a choice of at least two coffee blends or single origin coffees, each offered a choice of two or three different hot chocolates, and each offered a wide range of loose leaf teas, well described in carefully-written menus.
Many other cafes qualified for the one-to-four cup ratings, showing various degrees of success in meeting the main requirements of the industry’s highest standards.


Boughton’s Coffee House is the main news source for the coffee-house trade.

Tea and coffee history – the Bramah collection still exists

July 28, 2014

The Bramah collection, the probably-unique archive of historic coffee and tea-related machines, equipment and ephemera which formed the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee in south London, has been located. The present holder of the artefacts has confirmed that he intends to re-open the collection to the trade and to the public, probably within the next few years.

Ever since Edward Bramah died in 2008, and his museum and tea-room was closed and turned into a decorating merchant’s warehouse, many people in the coffee and tea trades have wondered what became of the collection. Soon after his death, there were vague news stories in the south London press which referred to a re-opening at another site, but nothing was heard after that.

To this day, it is often reported that tourists still arrive at the premises looking for the museum.

Boughton’s Coffee House magazine did not give up trying to find the answer… and last week we were permitted access to the collection by the present owner. We took with us Russell Kerr of Doctor Espresso, the collector whose renovated espresso machines were on display at this year’s Caffe Culture show, and were allowed entry to a basement store-room in which we were able to confirm with our own eyes that the collection still exists.

It is not possible to catalogue in detail the machines we found down there – for the moment we shall simply report Russell Kerr’s comment that one La Pavoni, of a design which dates from early in the twentieth century, ‘comes from the dawn of coffee’. He then he added that seeing one is unusual enough, but seeing two side by side is astonishingly rare.

“This treasure trove of hidden gems should get Espresso-Land talking a lot” said Russell Kerr on his Facebook page at the weekend, on which he published some pictures and a brief video of what we found underground. He is referring to an international ‘community’ of people who seek out, buy and sell, and renovate very early espresso machines, and news that the Bramah Collection still exists did immediately stir worldwide interest.

Edward Bramah was a rare authority on tea and coffee – he actually did start his career in the plantations in the 1950s, and he began designing his own coffee machines in the late 1960s. It has been speculated that his collection began when he started buying up vintage equipment for research into his own designs. He was one of the most entertaining natural speakers in the beverage world, and could hold trade audiences enthralled with his stories of trade history, invariably spiced by a vast amount of humour.

He was firmly of the opinion that too few people in today’s beverage trade understand the history of their subject, and once said: “I built two companies on the technique of demonstrating tea and coffee… but we are now paying the price for training salesmen to compete only on discount.”

He wrote several books, including the remarkable ‘Bramah Tea and Coffee Walk Around London’, which showed the main historical locations of events connected with the beverage trade, from the site of the first coffee house to the sites of tea warehouses and tea auctions. At the time of his death, he was working on a book to be called ‘Britain’s Tea Heritage’.

The current holder of the Bramah museum artefacts has told us: “Edward was a collector, a romantic, a social historian. I always told him I would keep the museum alive and now I think we have the first step to bringing it back, and maybe taking it to the kind of museum that Edward dreamed of.”

The full story will appear in the next printed issue of Boughton’s Coffee House.

UK barista championships – best yet?

April 23, 2014

UKBC 2014 Maxwell Colonna Dashwood, winner, at TV studios for interview - pic by BBC

Champion Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood waiting for a TV interview


The latest series of the UK barista awards has been completed, and a national champ has been crowned – it is Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Colonna and Small’s in Bath, who won the title two years ago, and who will now go on to compete for the UK in the world finals.  However, the more fascinating aspects of this year’s contest are the lessons which have been learned and the achievements which have been made – which include such eyebrow-raising matters as a complete lack of any complaints about the judging.

This year’s contest was the one which nearly did not happen. The organisation of the UKBC had been left in disarray, until the roaster Steve Leighton of Has Bean in Stafford very unwillingly stepped in to mastermind a recovery.  This involved the quite radical idea of abandoning the old idea of regional heats, in favour of one week-long ‘superheat’ in the midlands which fed twenty semi-finalists into the weekend final in London in early April.

It all worked – and indeed, the crowds at the final were evidence that it did so.

“This has been the toughest five days of my life – it is a crazy, ridiculous voluntary role to take on, but I knew that when I started.  In the end, everybody was positive. but it all worked out OK,” Steve Leighton told us after the event, before going on to detail the areas in which the contest had become a success.

“Front-of-house, it was all wonderful. Back of house, there were some problems to resolve, which was draining.

“The thing that made me most proud was – the judges made the right decision, a correct decision, and everybody knew it. The judging was absolutely impeccable. Not one competitor has said anything against the judges… and that’s an achievement to be proud of!”

This may sound an odd thing to claim as an achievement, but as in many contests, in many fields of sport and business, the standard of barista contest judging has long come in for criticism. There have been allegations of favouritism, of nods and winks between judges and entrants, and inconsistencies in scoring.

This year, said Leighton firmly, the judging was clearly of a high and consistent standard, which all entrants observed and respected.

“And several of the judges didn’t even claim their expenses. Why?  Because they knew our financial situation, but also because they enjoyed being a part of what we all did.”

The standard of this year’s finals was extremely high, although overall the number of entrants nationally was down, probably because of the concept of the ‘superheat’ and the delay in getting the contest organised and under way.

“As I had expected, the quality of entrant was good, and five of the top six would have made the semi-finals at world level, it was that good,” Leighton told us. “We may have lost out on some of the new blood this year, but we can address that.”

One of the most notable performances was the appearance of a contract caterer barista in the top six – Don Altizo, of Baxter Storey, was only half a point away from fifth place. It was an unprecedented achievement for the contract catering industry, and Baxter Storey have pointed to the position as justification of their decision to invest in coffee quality in the same way that they do in food standards.

“Baxter Storey should be incredibly proud,” agreed Steve Leighton. “Nobody works harder than Don at a contest, and he really puts the hours in… you can tell.  Baxter Storey spend a lot of time in preparation…  you can see the competitors who don’t prepare, because they’re like watching a slow-motion train crash!”

One of the most entertaining aspects of a barista contest  (some people say it is the single most crowd-pleasing element) is the signature drink, a preparation of the entrant’s own devising. There has been a distinct move in recent years towards ‘education’, in which entrants use this part of the contest to argue the cause of the way they are working… indeed, many competitors have begun to lecture the judges, and in the heat, one had the judges sit at school desks!

In the case of this year’s champion, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood entertained the crowd by putting on a white lab coat and giving the judges a lesson on water quality, a subject on which he has recently become a devoted student himself.

Organiser Steve Leighton is in favour of this, he told us.

“We have been in danger of competitions getting boring, if we ‘just make drinks’. I recall that in 2010, Colin Harmon made the judges  several versions of a drink, each using different waters, to show the different tastes which resulted – as a roaster, that stopped me in my tracks and made me think.

“These things push us all… and competitions should do that.”

Sponsorship has been a big matter for debate this year, not least because of the continuing argument over what the backers actually get for their money. Incredible as it sounds, but it has been confirmed many times, there have been no formal agreements between the UKBC organisers and the sponsors over what the backers will get in return for their money. As a result, some sponsors have been aggrieved that they see nothing in return for their support but a logo on a backing board and a token verbal ‘thank you’, while others are alleged to have attempted to virtually take the event over.

It will change next year, with entirely new sponsors, says Steve Leighton.

“All the sponsor agreements have now run out.  Next time, I do not want people who will just give money – I want sponsors who want to make things better.

“This year, the cleanser company Puly Caff said to us that they would offer a lot of money to be the cleanser sponsor – we said no, can we have a little less money, but can we have two people to clean the machines between contestants?

“So they did – they cleaned everything, and they had a cameraman showing what they were doing, and we interviewed them about it. Everybody learned something from this, and they were very happy sponsors. This means we can go back to potential sponsors and say we can show some kind of value to them – you must give sponsors expectations of what they will receive in return for their money, and that has not been done in the past.”

Managing the vast number of volunteers was another area in which great progress was made, reports Leighton, if a little ruefully.

“I’m not practised in managing volunteers – I’m experienced in managing people I pay. I’m just not used to asking volunteers if they would mind doing something!

“But by the last day, I was pretty much getting the idea of how to get volunteers to do what I wanted.

“It was a good event. Is it all perfect? No. Is it better than we’ve ever had? Yes!”


This year’s champ, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, was a clear winner on 669.5 points, well ahead of Dale Harris (643), and then Estelle Bright of Caravan. The reigning champ, John Gordon, was fourth, ahead of Joe Meagher of Flat Caps Coffee, just half a point ahead of Don Altizo. Maxwell also took the prizes for best espresso and best cappuccino of the day; the best signature drink was awarded to John Gordon.

One of the newest, but most popular awards is the ‘best newcomer’, created and sponsored by Union Hand Roasted.  This year the winner was  Imogen Ludman from Six Eight Kafe in Birmingham, who wins a trip to origin as Union’s guest.

“Her coffee was a Bolivian caturra, and her signature theme was ‘Imogen’s Sweet Shop’,” we were told by Devinder Dhallu, the owner of Six Eight. “The espresso mixed with sherbert and with candy floss made during the routine. The contents were stirred with homemade cascara lollipops which had been dipped in cascara and then coated with cherry flavoured sugar.

“Cascara is like a herbal tea made from the dried coffee cherry (of which the seed is the actual coffee bean). Each cascara tastes different, very similar to how different coffee beans taste. It is highly caffeinated and so it is like rocket fuel… we will be serving it at the café brewed as Cold Brew and seeing how it goes!”


In the other related contests, held over the same weekend,  the UK Coffee In Good Spirits title went to David Jameson of Union Hand Roasted Coffee.  This is the contest in which entrants may use alcohol, and he created theOrange Custard Martini, described as “a way to capitalise on some of the lesser-used, dormant bottles which lurk malevolently at the back of the shelf”!   It features Advocaat, Grand Marnier and espresso shaken together with Madagascan chocolate flakes and served with an orange zest rim. The result is a thick, viscous custardy body with the underlying acidity of the coffee balanced by the sweetness of the liqueurs.

Champion of the Ibrik/Cezve contest (the Turkish-style brewing) was Vadym Granovskiy of Coffee In Action. It was notable to see that two other competitors were former world barista champ Gwilym Davies, and UKBC organiser Steve Leighton himself.

The new Brewers Cup champion is a colleague of Maxwell’s at Colonna and Smalls, Sebastian Stephenson – he also managed to beat off a challenge from that same Steve Leighton, who clearly distinguished himself more as an organiser than a contestant this year.


Possibly the most unusual achievement of the entire contest weekend was that of Dhan Bahadur Tamang from the Caracoli coffee house in Hampshire.   Already the official British latte art champion, he took the title again, winning a trip to Rimini to compete in the world latte art championship.

However, there was another latte art contest being held during the UKBC weekend, a side attraction run in the exhibition area by the Cravendale milk brand. This also featured a tempting travel prize, of a trip to coffee origin in Peru.

What none of the organisers had noticed (until we pointed it out to them after the event) was that the winner of both latte art contests on the same weekend was… Dhan Tamang of Caracoli!


This story first appeared on Caffe Connect, the news website allied to the Caffe Culture show.




Unique coffee fest for Birmingham, UK

January 28, 2014

The Tamper Tantrum, probably the most entertaining conference in the worldwide coffee trade, is to make its British live debut in Birmingham in February – the event, organised by a Stafford coffee roaster, is part of the initial stages of the UK Barista Championship, in which British coffee-house staff compete for the chance to represent Britain in the world coffee-making finals.

The contest is usually run by a series of regional heats, in which coffee-making experts around the country attempt to win a place in a national final – this year, however, the entire initial stages are being grouped together in a week-long event at the Millennium Point, which has allowed the organisers the chance to create Birmingham’s first coffee-themed conference and debate programme.

The Tamper Tantrums were devised by Steve Leighton, of the Stafford coffee roaster Has Bean.  A ‘tamper’, in coffee-speak, is the little tool with which a barista firms down the coffee grounds in the filter holder before putting it into the espresso machine.   His concept was of a series of presentations on issues affecting the modern coffee trade, rather along the lines of the worldwide TED conferences, in which speakers have a fairly free hand to present ‘ideas worth spreading’ in the fields of technology, entertainment and design.

The coffee event has previously been held in Dublin, drawing visitors from Russia, Germany, and even Australia. The star speakers address aspects of importance to the modern coffee industry, from farming to the importance of sound, basic, customer service manners in a British coffee shop.  One of the most memorable speeches was delivered by a world barista champion on the appreciation of gender equality in the coffee trade, and the opportunities for female baristas in the coffee-shop sector – to make his point, he dressed in drag, with handbag and headscarf, but retained his full beard.

The Birmingham Tamper Tantrum will feature some of the most influential people in the modern coffee trade, including James Hoffmann, the first Briton to win the world barista title.  He will be joined by another British barista champion, Maxwell Colonna Dashwood of Bath, and the influential London coffee-shop owners Vic Frankowski and Rob Dunne (of Tapped and Packed) and Peter Dore Smith (of Kaffeine).

There will also be the first public screening of the documentary Barista or Bust, which follows UK barista champion John Gordon through his progress in the British contest and then the world finals.

“We hope this event is a sign of things to come for the British coffee trade,” remarked organiser Steve Leighton. “More value, more entertainment and more social events around an awesome competition in support of a very lively industry and market sector.”

The barista championship ‘superheats’ will be held at Millennium Point, Birmingham, from 9th – 14th February. The Tamper Tantrum event will be held on Sunday 9th February.


This story comes from Boughton’s Coffee House magazine.


A ‘year of change’ for the major UK coffee contest

December 20, 2013

There will be a radical change in the organisation of the UK Barista Championships for 2014. In the coffee trade’s major skills contest, the familiar format of regional heats will now give way to one single week-long ‘super-heat’, in Birmingham. Any barista who wishes to enter the contest will have to travel to appear at that central event.

The move is a last-minute rescue strategy devised by the temporary UK Co-ordinator of the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, which organises the barista championships.  Without the ‘super-heat’, the qualifying stages of the contest could probably not have been held in time for the final, due at the London Coffee Festival.

The reaction of the coffee trade has been mixed – the concept of a single heat is not popular, but it is widely accepted that a radical decision had to be made, and there is much approval for the temporary Co-ordinator, Steve Leighton, having stepped up to make it.


However, to the surprise of many, the SCAE has issued a statement saying that it is ‘thrilled to announce the merging of the regional UKBC heats’.  It has gone on to assert that: ‘it was thought that in previous years the regional heats have been diluted by competitors travelling from all over the country to compete, thus diminishing the prestige of the regional heat winners. By bringing the heats together, we can steer competitors to the correct heats based on their current places of work, and thus bring prestige back to the title of regional heat winner in the UKBC’.

This has been greeted with some incredulity, although in the latter part of the statement the SCAE may possibly be more guilty of clumsy phrasing than anything else.

What the SCAE may possibly have meant to convey, and did not make clear, was that in recent years the regional heats have not always been representative of their local areas. There have been many cases of competitors competing in faraway heats, for various reasons – occasionally, when one heat has been cancelled for lack of sufficient interest, the few entrants to have registered have been sent somewhere else. There have also been incidences of strategic entries to the heats which are latest in the calendar – the argument is that by entering the heat nearest in date to the semi-final and final, an entrant is more likely to remain ‘in competition mode’, whereas those who go through from an early heat will have gone back to their everyday work, and have to work themselves back into competition mindset.

This aside, the statement that the SCAE is ‘thrilled’ to have brought the heats together has been greeted with some derision. The ‘spin’ of presenting the decision as an exciting development might possibly have been greeted more sympathetically if the organisation had simply expressed relief that the 2014 contest is happening at all.

Steve Leighton, managing director of the coffee roaster Has Bean, is named in the announcement as the SCAE’s new UK Co-ordinator, but has stressed that he has accepted only a ‘temporary’ role, and that simply because nobody else would come forward to do it.

“I can tell you I am taking over a real, real mess,” Steve told Coffee House magazine. “Nothing, and I mean nothing, has been done and we have a competition to make happen in seven weeks. On my second day as Co-ordinator, I had to make a decision about how to keep the championship going. ”

The existing format already held several problems, he confirmed. Ever since the concept of regional heats was devised, around seven years ago, they have been under-attended – the hosting of these heats has always been generously handled by local trade companies, but the events themselves have gained little public attention.   The major sponsors, and invariably the machine sponsor, have had to trail around the country setting up equipment for events which are attended only by a few contestants and occasionally their workmates and relatives.

“Heats have been fairly depressing places, with the echo chamber of the industry talking to each other,” Leighton remarked.

His options, he told us, were limited – with no time to repeat the regional formula, and with little expectation that the regional events would improve, the option was to take a radical decision in the knowledge that he would almost certainly be faced with a storm of criticism. The decision that the Co-ordinator and his colleagues reached was to bring the entire contest together over several days at one venue, where he could also include other coffee-themed competitions utilising the same audio-visual and live-streaming facilities, and maybe incorporate coffee-related entertainment and events such as his well-known Tamper Tantrum debates.

As a result, while there has been a general lack of enthusiasm across the trade for the concept of a ‘super-heat’, this has been widely qualified with a large amount of sympathy for the position Steve Leighton found himself in. There has been unanimous agreement of the principle that in a crisis situation, one decisive move to get things going is preferable to hesitancy.

Early such support came from Jeremy Torz of Union Hand-Roasted, the event sponsor which created a special prize for the best performance by a first-time competitor.

“This is ‘a bit of a curly one’, as we say at Union!” Jeremy told Coffee House.  “Steve’s pulled a tough gig this year – he has picked up the poisoned chalice. All the organising that should have gone on in the summer had been held back, and for us sponsors, this was frustrating – but Steve has to be thanked for stepping into the void, and we will support him, whatever he decides, in what we think must now be seen as ‘a year of change’.

“After several years of very expensive regional events with very few people attending, this must be worth trying.  We have not seen any increase in the activity around heats, so what can we make this into? How can we make it a ‘pull’? “

A similar view came from Marco Olmi of Drury, another roaster who has supported entrants in the contest, although not as a direct sponsor. He was a quite typical commentator, seeing the point but worrying about the effects – he was one of many who worried about the average high-street competitor being able to reach an event in Birmingham.

“I can see the point of it, and I have a huge amount of sympathy for Steve Leighton, and a huge amount of sympathy for the sponsors – regional events must be horrendously expensive for them. We did have the chance of sponsoring a couple of years ago, but I realised that to do it properly would take the work of two staff for a few weeks.

“But, it is going to marginalise baristas, other than the stars and the ones whose companies have budgets behind them. Birmingham may be ‘central’, but if you’re in Glasgow, Aberdeen, or the west country, you’re still stuck. It’s OK for those who can afford the travel and the accommodation for a couple of nights, but not for the average joe barista – we’re going to see only the big companies and the superstars.

“I know that some people will say they only want the baristas who are really dedicated, but that’s not the point – what we really need are 200 competitors of all standards. We really want the high street baristas who say: ‘I know I’m never going to win, but I’m going to dip my toe in, and I’m going to learn something’.  They are now going to be far more wary of doing so than before, so numbers will be down.

“I sympathise with the reason for the decision, and I sympathise with the sponsors – but I think it means that many possible entrants will not bother in 2014.”


It is here that opinions become radically divided.  One school of thought holds that a concentration of the event into a concentrated time frame will promote ‘excellence’ in approach, and an entirely contrary school of thought maintains that the one central event will deter the baristas who are the lifeblood of the high-street market, which should be seen as the most important sector of the trade.

“As soon as I read it, my heart sank,” remarked former champ Hugo Hercod, who runs the Relish deli in Wadebridge, north Cornwall.  “I may be proven very wrong, but it doesn’t sound like a good idea.

“From a business-owner  point of view, I can’t possibly afford to support any of my baristas for a week away – none of them will want to take a holiday and fund it themselves, and I certainly wouldn’t give a week of my life for the 15 minutes of weirdness that is a barista competition!”

Far more severe criticism came from others in the farther-flung regions – although, to be fair, the most extreme opinions were expressed in response to the SCAE’s announcement that it was ‘thrilled’ about the super-heat.  One comment from Scotland was: “ridiculous, short sighted, naive, foolhardy and damaging to the competition”, and several questioned whether baristas really would travel to Birmingham.  Many later opinions were more temperate, as it became clearer that Steve Leighton’s decision had been made in a crisis situation.

However, those who support the concept of barista contests as promotional events for the high-street trade argue strongly that events actually held in the regions provide the most valuable PR for the coffee-house sector, and should be reinstated as soon as possible.

It has been suggested that the value of a local heat in the regions is actually far more than the UKBC organisers appreciate – indeed, one sponsor of the national contest said to Coffee House: “it had never occurred to me how much press is achieved at local level…”

“If you win the south west heat at an event in Exeter, in front of audience made up of local cafes from across the region, this is far more gratifying and prestigious than winning in front of a group of baristas from around the country,” remarked Tom Sobey of Origin roasters in Cornwall, who has hosted regional heats three times.

“I also think it isolates baristas down here and will make competition less accessible for newbie baristas in remote areas. We have seen in the past even if they don’t do that well, the quality of coffee served at their establishment definitely increases, which must surely be the end goal of the competition. I can see the theory behind it, but it will all but end the association with the competition on the high street down here… I cannot imagine that anybody will travel from Cornwall to Birmingham to watch ‘the south west heat’!  This is not great for the South West.

“However, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t… they will never please everybody.”

Similarly, barista Alex Sargent of Strangers coffee bar in Norwich, a top-twenty finalist in the 2013 competition, stressed how much press and broadcast publicity his business gained from the event.  It required a little effort, but he was featured in half a dozen papers, and on two local BBC news programmes.  There was an extremely long local story about his signature drink, the Apple Mac, and when he later in the year went to compete in the Union Hand Roasted contest, two other baristas said: ‘oh, you’re the one who did the Apple Mac – we’ve read about you!’

So, he pointed out, the publicity gained by local events does have a positive effect.

In the future, suggested Marco Olmi at Drury, the solution might be a smaller number of better-run regional events, and Steve Leighton has made the same point in a blog, in which he wrote:  “in an ideal world I think three well-run heats would be amazing – one for the south (London to the south-west), one for the north, from Newcastle to Scotland, and something in the middle. But this year we have time, resources and energy for one.”


The other main school of thought comes from those who might be considered the elite of the trade, with competition success on their CVs.

A former champion, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Bath, made the point that one ‘super heat’ may improve the competition, with regard to the way it is judged.

“My primary interest is the quality, efficency and integrity of the competition itself – is the competition itself as good as it can be? In terms of consistency and quality, I think this move has the potential to really improve the competition.

“I have always wondered about the possible differences heat to heat, with many consisting of completely different judging panels and head judges…  would I have been scored differently in one heat over another?  As for judges’ feedback goes, if none of the judges judging me at a heat will be judging me at the final, then how should I interpret their feedback from a heat?

“There’s also the issue of the heats seeming, in my opinion, to sometimes be treated more softly and less seriously than the semis and the finals.

“I have an issue with the way heats are treated – they are often presented as a sort of barista jam, encouraging  competitors to take part and have fun. I don’t think this is actually that good for the competitors – I have often seen many competitors turning up with little preparation or understanding of the competition, which doesn’t benefit them or the competition. They get a score of three hundred and are often despondent and unnerved by the experience.

“I think one ‘super heat’ will result in a better quality of competition, and is that not why competitors are taking part?  The UKBC competitions are supposed to be the pinnacle of our industry, not a barista jam.”

At Taylor Street Baristas and Harris and Hoole, Nick Tolley had a member of staff placed very highly in the 2013 UKBC, and sees advantages in a ‘super-heat’.

“I appreciate the concerns… that said, I can’t help but think the move is fairly sound. From a barista’s perspective, it has a number of benefits, including a fairer competition because all competitors are evaluated with the same conditions – the water, stage set-up, the prep area, the equipment, and judged by a more calibrated judging team.

“Organisationally and operationally, it’s beneficial because multiple heats cost more and involve a lot more time, and are challenging to always deliver consistently and at the highest level.

“Barista skill development and the promotion of speciality coffee are the primary reasons for the competition. The bigger the profile of this event, the greater the potential sponsorship and promotion for the industry, which should in turn result in raising the profile of the barista craft.

“New Zealand has been running one heat for the past couple of years. I am led to believe that, as a result, they have found that they get more committed baristas who attend the event and increase the quality and profile of the competition overall.”

The UK’s first world barista champ, James Hoffmann of Square Mile roasters, was also cautiously optimistic.

“I can understand why many people would be extremely frustrated with this, but I see it somewhat differently. The incoming committee is dealing with a huge challenge and has very little in the way of time or resources. The fact that there are going to be heats in any form this year means that a small group of people are going to have to work very hard indeed.

“If there is only one opportunity for one single mass heat, then I think it is excellent that it is outside London. Many can travel without the need for an overnight stay, and those that do stay will find Birmingham far cheaper than London.

“I think running an event that has other attractions for the wider industry is a great idea. Watching barista competition is not, by and large, particularly compelling or engaging. Having talks and workshops is going to be a big draw.

“I’m going to do the best I can to support the new UK Chapter as I think they have the coffee industry’s best interests at heart, above self-interest (as we’ve perhaps seen in the past).”

A fresh point of view comes from Tim Sturk, training manager at Baxter Storey, the contract caterer. He is unusual in that he is the first man from such a business to take up a Co-ordinator role with the SCAE (he is jointly in charge of the education activity) and also the first to put a serious collection of contract-caterer entrants into the UKBC. He is also a former competitor.

“I am one of those who have used the timing of heats to my advantage in the past – I competed in Lancaster and in Scotland myself, and I have had baristas from London competing in Cheshire, Scotland, and Norwich!

“This year, the date of the London Coffee Festival, where the final is to be held, is what has triggered all this – they have moved the date three weeks earlier, which hasn’t left a lot of time for anyone to plan, so the idea was put forward to run all the heats in one week.  My baristas will suffer –  between now and the competition, in a very difficult labour environment, we will only find very few days available to practise.

“I think the idea of the ‘superheat’ was not communicated well… but the good ones will still rise to the top as they have in the past.”


A more promising aspect of the current situation is that the new UK Co-ordinator, Steve Leighton, despite his protests that he is only a ‘temporary’ officer, has already given the clue that he has wider ambitions for the role, and that the UK chapter of the SCAE will develop a more wide series of events and projects for the trade in general than it has done in the past.

“My role until the finals is just to make a competition happen – I have little other focus on my mind.

“But the day after the UKBC winner is announced, I start work on events for people other than baristas.  I want to bring the whole UK chapter together with fun events that are not just based around the competition season.”


This story has also been reported, in a slightly condensed form, on the Caffe Culture news portal, the news site of the UK’s main coffee exhibition.