British espresso must get better, say BSA awards judges

The catering trade’s training of making espresso coffee has to change – because coffee itself has changed so radically in recent years. That is the remarkably challenging view of one of the major winners in this year’s awards from the Beverage Standards Association.

These awards seek to recognise best-practice in the making and serving of hot drinks, and establishments who are judged to make coffee and tea the proper way can win the right to display a sign confirming that their work is up to the trade’s best standards.   However, early in the judging for this year’s awards, the BSA assessors were scathing about the standard of straight espressos served to them, saying that ‘basic espresso will pass – unfortunately, basic is too high for some in our industry’. The point being made was that while straight espressos are still a minority drink in Britain, espresso itself remains the major base ingredient of every popular milky coffee.

The winners of the ‘best drinks’ section of the awards were in agreement, and most notably, Mike Haggerton of the Habitat cafe in Aberfeldy, Scotland, who took the BSA prize for this year’s best espresso.

He won the prize with a coffee roasted by Has Bean of Stafford, and told Coffee House magazine that everybody in the catering trade now needs to re-evaluate just what makes ‘a good espresso’. It remains true, he confirmed, that the hospitality trade in general serves much bad espresso.

“I agree – it’s awful out there! The level of understanding is poor, both amongst the trade and customers. Espresso is still seen as a bitter drink, and 99 per cent of the time it is, in most places.  And that is seen as acceptable, because many people haven’t tasted a well-made espresso brewed with great beans that have been roasted for great flavour.

“Espresso coffee can be better now because of improvements in various areas. There is better farming, there are different roast styles, there are developments in grinding and brewing technology, as well as an increased awareness of the importance a skilled barista plays within the chain. Unfortunately, while this information is well known amongst speciality coffee professionals, the message has so far failed to fully reach ‘normal’ cafes and catering businesses. The common belief still seems to be that making espresso is just a matter of buying some coffee beans, and the machine will do the rest.

“The coffee trade’s trainers need to be re-trained on espresso – and coffee bean suppliers need to stop telling new catering customers that one day’s training is all they need.”

A certain agreement about changing long-accepted standards came from Ian Steel of the Atkinsons café-roastery in Lancaster, which took the BSA’s prize for the best flat white.

“We read the rule book some while ago, but have pretty much torn it up and written our own!” he said  cheerfully.  “Our flat white is actually the same as our cappuccino – a seven ounce cup with a double shot and steamed milk with latte art. The blend is usually 80 per cent Guatemalan Finca la Bolsa, and twenty per cent  Ethiopian Negelle Gorbitu, an unusual natural Yirgacheffe.”

The best filter coffee award went to the Bottle Kiln of Derbyshire, for a Kenyan coffee roasted by Peter James at James Gourmet Coffee.

“The coffee used was a Kenya Kirimahiga AA 2013, from the Muranga region in central Kenya,” the Bottle Kiln told the trade’s news magazine.  “Kirimahiga is both a wet mill and a co-operative society, transparent in ecological and ethical practices. The taste profile is Juicy grapefruit enveloping soft blackcurrant.

“We use the two-cup filter holders – we started with ceramic, and moved to plastic as they retain the heat a lot better, and we place straight onto the cup instead of using a stand, as this also brings in an element of heat loss. Drinking a cooler filter coffee can give a much more interesting profile, but on a commercial basis, heat is unfortunately the big factor.”

The ‘best tea’ prize also went to a barista often noted for his coffee – this was Steve Dyson of Spring Espresso in York. He made the interesting point  that when a customer asks for a ‘green’ tea, that may not be exactly what they want.

“All our Chinese teas come from the Canton tea company. We serve all of these teas in our shop in a Piao tea pot (something which looks similar to a cafetiere, but allows for an upper steeping chamber which allows brewed tea to pass into a lower serving chamber).

“We serve on a wooden tray with a modern Chinese tea cup without handle, and with extra water.  The extra water is given because although Chinese teas appear expensive, £3 in our shop, you can get many infusions from a serving.

“More and more we have an increasing number of customers asking for ‘green tea’. What they often mean is a Chinese-style tea, as a lot of them have heard about the health properties of these teas. If they say ‘green tea’ we will try to suggest other Chinese teas they might like.”

His winner was an oolong from Canton. “As the water cools from the 90c we serve it at, the flavours change and develop – many customers say they get peach or honey flavours.”

Among the BSA’s other ‘best drink’ awards, the Apple Tree of Barton Marina, Staffs, won the best hot chocolate, the Crema espresso bar in Bridlington took the best latte, and Pumphrey’s of Newcastle  won the best cappuccino.

Several cafes won the right to display the BSA’s 5-cup emblem, which represents the association’s judging of the very best practice in beverage preparation and service. They were the Bottle Kiln, the Barista’s Coffee Shop of Chester, Pumphrey’s, the Crema, Spring Espresso, Coffee Fix of Gatley, the Apple Tree, the Hall in Lancaster (that’s also the Atkinson’s roastery), Cartmel Coffee of Grange-over-Sands, and the Habitat in Aberfeldy.

(It was quickly noted by several observers that all the top awards went to the midlands and north… however, there were many southern winners of the next grade, the 4-cup rating).

The retired champion athlete Dame Kelly Holmes presented the awards. She has, of course, ambitions to open a coffee house of her own shortly.


This item was written by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, and has appeared on the Caffe Culture news portal, the website allied to the coffee trade’s main show :      

The Beverage Standards Association can be found at .






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