I am partial to a good coffee, emphasis on the good. No Mellow Birds or Nescafe Gold Blend for me, in fact we don’t have instant coffee in the house. Even the workmen get the real stuff, though one poor plumber bounced his way out of the house juggling his spanners after drinking four double-shot cappuccinos.
One of our first major purchases was a decent and rather indecently-priced coffee maker, well, who needs furniture? You have to get your priorities right. It has lots of shiny chrome, a pressure tank that goes up to 11 and a serious-looking frother. It’s Italian, of course, so is very stylish, even the sound of the click of the ‘on’ switch is a thing of beauty. And we don’t just let any old coffee grace the grounds basket, our selected blends, ground to fit the machine, come all the way from that there London. Coffee’s too important to leave to the chance of the supermarket shelves.
While I wouldn’t call it an obsession, I certainly do insist on good coffee, and I like to remember where I had that coffee, making a mental note on whether or not to return. So for the past few years, I’ve kept a pictorial coffee diary, photographing most of the coffees I’ve drunk, and a couple I’ve send back because they’re undrinkable. For a bit of fun, I’ve made them into a mosaic, using Andrea Mosaic, a rather natty open source product. This mosaic is made from 5000 coffees, I’ve drunk them all. I’m still waiting for them to improve my running performance, I think it may be a delayed reaction, I’ll ask Mo.
My first coffee in my new job was a bit of a blur, with good reason, I’d forgotten my glasses. Colleagues and staff must have thought I was being aloof as I looked at them through narrowed eyes. Not a bit of it, I was just trying to focus!
The final coffee, drunk from what had become my trademark sparkly red mug from a certain Seattle-based cafe chain tasted good, mainly because it was free. I’d made such a nuisance of myself at the coffee bar with my skinny-latte-but-don’t-overfill-the-cup-because-I-like-it-strong requests that they gave me a freebie just to give me a send-off in a kind-off ‘thank goodness she’s going’ way.
Over the year I’ve been at the University of Bradford, every coffee I’ve drunk has told a story. I’ve continued what I started three years ago, keeping a photo diary, a coffee diary, all my coffees in all the places I’ve been. That’s a lot of caffeine, yeeee haaaaaw I feel good and very much awake. For good measure, I’ve made my coffees into photo mosaics, coffees within coffees within coffees, like a Mandelbrot espresso set.
So here’s the highlights:
The coffee that helped me through the business and chaos of the British Science Festival which put Bradford on the map of cool places, rather than the city of riots.
The coffee to celebrate with new graduates, all be-gowned and dewy-eyed, rewarded for all their hard work and looking forward to the future, though dreading the job-hunting.
The coffees with the many cakes consumed in the office, they tasted particularly good, especially when we had the chocolate cake bakeathon. My word that lot could consume their own body weight in cake
The coffees and cheers for good times, the coffees and tears for times that weren’t as good, that’s being a manager for you.
So I said a fond farewell, a contract is a contract and there was nothing else to do but have a final coffee, graciously accept the lovely gifts which they really shouldn’t have (but I do like pressies so thanks, thanks, thanks!) and go out with a splash. We all headed for Bradford’s newest attraction, the multi-fountained mirror-pooled City Park where, joined by three brave staff and watched by many more, we legged it through the water. But not before we’d had a coffee to warm us up.
Keeping a diary has always been a bit of an ‘I’ve started so I’ll not finish’ for me. I usually get to January 18, having carefully documented the post-Christmas pre-birthday goings-on with flowery prose and witty comments. Then after that it tends to peter out and I’m left with random words scattered through the remaining weeks of spring, a couple of comments in summer months then come autumn, just a list of birthdays. I ran out of inspiration, I ran out of provocation, I just ran out.
Then came caffeine, nectar of the gods, fuel for the body and food for the brain. Actually, there had always been coffee, I just hadn’t appreciated how it could drive my diary-writing. That realisation came about the same time I came to the conclusion that instant coffee was an abomination and a crime against coffee cups everywhere. Time was when I would happily sip Mellow Birds, which, according to the publicity, would ‘make you smile’. I can tell you, there was no smiling, it was all about frowning and unladylike spitting. No more Mellow Birds for me. No Nescafe Gold Blend and absolutely no Camp Coffee.
The pop pop popping of the percolator and permeating aroma of Lyons Fresh Ground Coffee had whetted my appetite for ‘proper’ coffee as we called it in our house. But that soon gave way to espresso and the House Blend, perfected after many experimental mixtures and quite a few sleep-deprived nights as the caffeine kicked in.
The coffee inspired my diary, in fact, it became my diary, With the help of the camera on my phone, I began a photo diary, taking pictures of coffees wherever I went, each telling a story.
When I started work at the University of Bradford, I took my coffee cup with me. Much to the amusement of staff, colleagues and students, I’ve placed the sparkly Starbucks mug in all kinds of settings. It’s been fun it’s been a challenge, it’s been yet more pages for my caffeine-fuelled photo diary.
I’ve taken all my coffee photos from the past three years and made them into a mosaic using a clever piece of software from the cuddly open source community.
Every coffee tells a story, not just the delicious aroma, fabulous flavour and kick-ass double shot of caffeine-laced liquor. Every coffee has its time and place, its own Harry Potter’s wand of priori incancato as each sip recalls where it was drunk, with whom and the spell it cast.
My name is Anne and I am a coffeeholic. For the past 18 months, everywhere I go, every coffee I drink and every new coffee experience I have is photographed and recorded for my caffeine-fueled diary. Well, not quite every coffee, just the interesting ones, or those best forgotten.
It started out as just a bit of fun, the camera on the phone was quick and easy to use and it was oh so irresistable to then send the image to a friend via text, especially if I was in some wonderful, exotic, out-of-the-way place, which wasn’t very often. Friends returned the compliment and suddenly there was a whole social network of coffee-related activiy, our very own kaffeeklatsch.
The coffee story became coffee art as I made photo mosaics using the very clever open source programme Andrea Mosaic. Andrea, who’s based in Italy, like any open source developer, was chuffed to hear I’d used his program to produce art, with a couple of the mosaics going on show earlier this year. I even made a donation to help him continue his work which, if I know programmers, he’ll convert into caffeine, helping to start the coffee cycle all over again.
Barristas and coffee shop owners are either puzzled, interested or worried when they see the mad red-haired woman arranging their coffee, cups and cakes on the tray, floor or windowsill before photographing them. Those who are interested want to know how their coffee scores and I do keep a mental note of who’s best and who’s best to avoid.
So far, here in Leeds, the best is definitely Opposite, with a cafe opposite the Parkinson Building at the university and in the Victoria Quarter and Laynes near the railway station. And the worst? Somewhere in Armley who should have known better.
If 2010 was a coffee, it would have been a Costa espresso. At its best, a powerful shot of glorious flavour, perfect in every way. bringing contentment and a fluttering of the heart. At its worst, a tasteless tepid brew, best forgotten and written off as another of those character-building experiences.
My year was defined by coffee, where I drank it, with whom and whether cake was involved. Using the organic maths formula for which I am famous, I calculated how many coffees I’d consumed in 2010. Granted, my fame only extends to Noel and my friend Clare, who both have top qualifications in Serious Sums and Adding Up and Lowell who has a PhD in mathematics, though he still lost us the pub quiz when he couldn’t figure out how many spots there were on a set of dominoes (168). My calculation came to 42, that’s organic maths for you. With Noel’s help, working on the three-coffees-six-shots-a-day with a few days off when coffee was unobtainable, or there was only a jar if instant, which doesn’t count, we’re looking at over 2000 shots of espresso, and not one of them caffeine-free, I’m pleased to say.
The best coffee of all has been the Friends Coffee, not the 20-somethings at TV’s Central Perk, but coffee shared with friends at home, their place, or in a cafe. There was coffee with parents-to-be, newlyweds and new parents, fellow photographers, fellow runners and climbers and new friends made during the course of the year. The best tasting coffee was in Italy, well, you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? The mountain cafe on the slopes at Courmayeur. overlooking Monte Bianco serves round about the best espresso you can hope to taste. The apple cake is pretty good too…
Travel Coffee featured strongly, as I clocked up airmiles to Switzerland on weekend visits and coffee-tasting expeditions to see Noel who started his ski training with energy and determination and finished it all in one piece which, given all the falling over at high speed, was a bonus. And it did wonders for his buns of steel… but I digress….
Then there was Occasion Coffee, a fine brew to celebrate my graduation with an MA in Cinema, Television and Society at York University; Noel’s gritty Swiss coffee to mark his new qualification as a ski instructor and coffee with flowers at the various garden-related events we’ve attended. Sadly there was a goodbye coffee to Uncle Trevor.
The award for the worst coffee goes to an entire organisation, Ferrero, producer of Espresso to Go, a foul liquid in a plastic capsule, drunk through a mini straw. We bought a three-pack at an Italian service station. Why a three-pack? Surely no-one has ever drunk more than one, we certainly didn’t, passing the rest to our coffee-loving friend Andrew who amazingly is still our friend.
Finally there was Arty Coffee, I’d already decided I’d to a coffee photo diary, and some coffees were works of art. The Flat White made its first appearance in the UK during the year, rather like a latte, but with a better brew and fancier foam. Good to drink, but needs cake, and definitely photogenic. With the help of a fancy piece of Open Source software, I put them together as a mosaic. Thanks Andrea Mosaic!
In the interests of research, and with absolutely no thought for myself, I intend to continue the coffee quest in the expectation that 2011 will be the Best Coffee Ever.
Happy New Year!
Here’s a few of 2010s coffees. There are 400 other photos, I may have to write a book!