What’s Brewing: Volcan Azul Natural – Costa Rica

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Image courtesy Wolff Coffee Roasters

One of the many benefits in having close and dear friends in the coffee industry is what follows shortly after the statement: “we’ve got something coming in you’ve gotta try”. Queue something a little special by Wolff Coffee Roasters having made its way to our friends at The Wired Owl Coffee Co in Sandgate.

On this occasion? A naturally processed coffee from Costa Rica, produced by Alejo Castro under the Volcan Azul name, which itself has a long history in the global coffee industry:

At the end of the 19th century, when coffee production was in its early beginnings in America, without knowing it, two pioneers and entrepreneurs, Alejo C. Jiménez in Costa Rica and Wilhelm Kahle in the south of Mexico, shared the same dream: “To produce the best coffee in the world” to satisfy the new demanding European gourmet market.

More than a century has passed and today the fourth and fifth generations of descendants of these visionary farmers still produce coffee within the same ideals of excellency and top quality that inspired their ancestors. They produce one of the best pure coffees of the world with its Brand “F.C.J. Volcan Azul” on the slopes of the Poás Volcano in Costa Rica.

Information courtesy Volcan Azul – Tradition

The coffee inside the brightly labelled Wolff Roasters bag certainly carries such an esteemed tradition with distinction.

This is a seriously tasty coffee, masterfully roasted by the folk at Wolff, and will also be used by competitors at this year’s 2017 QLD Aeropress Championships. I can’t help but think the judges are certainly in for a treat that day.

Upon grinding, there is a brown sugar aroma with a hint of orange and lemon zest. Consumed as espresso, there is a lovely caramelised sweetness, medium body, and a bright citrus zing. A sweet, fresh and delightful cup — think sweet lemon tart.

When prepared as a flat white, the added sweetness and viscosity of the milk really makes this coffee shine. This one is the full lemon meringue pie — that is the honest truth. I’m the first to admit not all of the flavours listed on coffee bags always find their way into my cup, (mostly likely a combination of brewing differences and simply my palate being responsible for that). This one, however, is exactly as it says on the tin:

The pleasantly sweet aftertaste reminds us of meringue with hints of vanilla. With milk, the Volcán Azul is creamy and biscuity, with hints of lemon curd.

I mean it — a lemon meringue pie in a six-ounce cup. Not only that, but a perfect way to sneak in dessert for breakfast. A winner all round I say. I was even tempted to over-aerate my milk just to get that meringue look on top, but hey, this isn’t the 90’s anymore…

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Breakfast is served

Of course I don’t expect you to take my word for it, and if you are on Brisbane’s Northside, pop in and grab a bag from The Wired Owl (227 Rainbow St, Sandgate), or Wolff Roasters (140 Gerler Rd, Hendra). The Wolff online store is also just a click away — wherever you are.

My Pick? Visit Aaron at The Wired Owl, and depending on what is featured as the single origin that day — he might even make you a cup.

Whatever your taste preferences, this is certainly a great one to try. Get some while you can!

The Coffee Podcast

I’ve been very much enjoying The Coffee Podcast recently, which has served up some very compelling topics and guests from the coffee industry in recent episodes — none more so than the current two-part series featuring James Hoffmann.

Add to that a discussion on the Swiss Water decaf process (Episode 87), another on the relevance and application of genetics in coffee (Episode 88), and the breadth and depth of show content really shines through.

I particularly enjoyed the episode on genetics, given it provided some great follow-up to a little reading I did on the topic a few years ago, which at the time was the stimulus for this post. This episode will provide you with a better understanding of the critical role genetics is playing — and will play — in the sustainability and very survival of speciality coffee as we know it today, along with the great work being done by the folk at World Coffee Research.

Speaking of which, Specialty Coffee Association Executive Director Ric Rhineheart provides his thoughts on what specialty coffee actually is in Episode 81. Then, as you can imagine, I could not go past Episode 85 with US Roasting Champion Mark Michaelson.

Thought provoking, very entertaining, yet educational at the same time, if you enjoy coffee and yearn for a little more insight, The Coffee Podcast is well worth a listen. As the show’s Who We Are page will tell you:

Our Focus is People, our Language is Coffee

Check out the webpage for more information on episodes and topics which may be of interest, hosts Weston Peterson and Jesse Hartman, and download links. Alternatively, search for “The Coffee Podcast” in your podcast client of choice (my preferred being Pocket Casts).

Happy listening (and learning).

Restocking – a trip to Bookbinders

Although I’ve posted an image to Instagram from yesterday’s visit to the Bookbinders store on Brisbane’s Northside, readers of the blog and my social media following are not one and the same, so I thought I’d share a couple of things in a brief post.

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It was my second visit to the actual store itself — such a wonderful, calming space amid the chaos of rainy Friday afternoon traffic. The Bookbinders team do a fantastic job, stocking great products and provide outstanding customer service. It was great to hear business is strong, with foot traffic continuing to increase at the store itself.

It is definitely worth a visit if you have yet to do so, and of course if you already have, you don’t need me to encourage you to return — I’m sure that is inevitable.

Though it wasn’t a big haul by any stretch, the few key items on my list were ticked off.

Coffee drinking and roasting logs

I’ve written in a recent post about my thoughts and plans for recording my coffee roasting data, and the main reason for the visit was to pick up the new 33 Roasts log from the 33 Books series.

My only concern (immediately alleviated upon closer inspection) was whether the log contained units in degrees celsius as well as Fahrenheit (being a US publication). All good to go here, with units in celsius appearing on the R hand axis of the roast graph. Key details from each of my roasts will end up in a spreadsheet, and the entire notebook contents scanned, indexed and saved for safe keeping and easy search (perhaps a post for another day).

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A few drops of coffee in the ink is a nice touch

My coffee drinking habits? Well why not 33 Log those as well? When out, I use a modified version of this Day One / Launch Center Pro template (also available as Workflow app action if that is your preference) to rate the beverages cafes serve me, however when at home I’d like to record a little more often in relation to drinking what I’ve roasted myself. The 33 Cups of Coffee log seems like a good way to go here.

Upon completion, these will also be scanned, and I’m thinking perhaps the 4 and 5 star rated cups are worthy of indexing for future reference. I’ll give that one a little more thought.

 

Writing

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Though 40 pages less, a considerable reduction in paper weight from the Life Symphony to the Monokaki

One of the most pleasing aspects of visiting the store was seeing the healthy stock of Monokaki notebooks, which still remain my all-time favourite. Previous posts about those? Yes — here and here if you are interested. Having passed my 50% rule (that is, of usage in my current notebook before searching for another), it wasn’t a hard choice as to what I’d pick up next.

The masuya paper contained therein is a perfect mash-up of Tomoe River-like weight with a little more tooth to the nib. Just the way I like it. In order to share my fondness, some of that very paper will also be going out in handwritten correspondence from the Yuga Letter Pad I picked up as well.

Signing off

Given this was never intended to be a lengthy post, in closing, I think we are very lucky to have the Bookbinders team not only based in Brisbane, but having a brick and mortar presence as well. They are wonderful people with a passion for the industry — something well worth supporting as a consumer.

Happy writing, roasting and drinking.

Selfish writing

A good few posts here on the site reference learning as one of the key reasons for commencing this blog and indeed carrying on to this point — some four years later. A noble goal — or at the very least — a reasonable basis for applying a little effort towards producing content.

Over that time period, I’ve been through various phases and feelings about writing here. Beginners nerves (which merely evolve into more experienced nerves upon hitting “publish”); gaining some, then wanting more readers; realising more posts gain more readers and writing them; burning out a little, and realising 20% less monthly readers affords 80% (if not more) better balance. Blogging as a hobby really should not be a chore.

Now? I’m quite content with how things are. Thanks for asking.

Accompanying the passage of time has been a realisation the knowledge I gain through researching, reading, and organising my thoughts on various topics and posts is indeed quite valuable to me. It is however, secondary to something far more important. Something I perhaps didn’t anticipate, understand, nor fully appreciate until now. Something inherently more selfish, which far outweighs the learning — and indeed sharing — of knowledge by a significant order of magnitude. It is probably also time to own up to that truth.

When all is said and done, I’m really just writing here for my own sanity. Plain and simple.

The longer I do this, the more I realise the predominant, though unintended (yet most welcome) benefit of all this is the process of writing, and the switch-off it affords from most other goings-on while I’m doing it. Even better? The option at any time to not do it for a while — whether by choice or circumstance — and return when I choose.

Should this really come as much of a surprise? Probably not, and is simply a classic case of forest for the trees if ever there was one, however I am glad to be a little more aware of such a welcome reality.

Undoubtedly this is probably not a surprise to anyone who writes in a similar way, unencumbered by deadlines, contracts or commitments. Then again, who am I to assume — perhaps those who write for a living feel the same way, although I suspect there is at least some additional burden on the minds of those who do.

Maybe arriving at this point was inevitable, and I was simply unaware of it when starting out. After all, those sayings don’t lie do they. You know them: the process not the outcome; the journey, not the destination; the writing, not the readers.

I’ve taken some liberty in including that last one, and to explain further, you — the reader — are extremely important to me of course. I simply realise doing my best to provide readable content which may (hopefully) be helpful or provide value in some small way is part of the process, may be an outcome, however is not stoking the fire as it once was. Or at least as I thought it was.

So, have I been lying to you all this time?

I’d say no, however perhaps no more so to you, the reader, than to myself. Let’s think of it merely an oversight rather than outright deception. What next then? Well, I guess there is nothing to do but continue, and do so in the knowledge at the heart of these pages lies an intrinsic motivation which will likely keep me writing far longer than any extrinsic reward.

For that, I am extremely grateful — as I am to you, for reading.

Life Symphony A5 Spiral Bound Notebook

img_7800An interest in fountain pens inherently carries with it a similar level of attention to paper. Although I’ve written about some budget friendly notebook options on one or two occasions, I’m not averse to paying a little more for them either.

One such notebook — while not prohibitive in cost — is the L!fe Symphony N93 Spiral Bound A5 currently sitting on my desk. For the remainder of this post, I will mostly use Life rather than L!fe, as I do find it a little distracting, and an online search term of Life Symphony Notebook will bring up what you are looking for.

Look and feel

In summary, I’d say the Symphony notebook has no bells and minimal whistles — just high quality design, construction and performance.

Though technically a soft cover notebook, the Symphony carries very thick, stiffened card stock front and back which is about as hard as you’d find in a soft-cover notebook. As the images in this post show, I purchased what is described on various retail sites as the “grey” version. The front cover features some intricate detailing reminiscent of a dense vine, and is quite attractive to my eye. The back cover matches in colour, however is unadorned with any detailing or labelling.

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A colour

To be honest I’m not sure how I’d describe this colour. At the time of purchase, I was drawn to the contrast between the prominent brass coloured double spiral binding and the deeper, slightly more mysterious looking cover. Something enigmatic to provide a little mystery, and shroud what would ultimately be a collection of fairly superficial writing you might say.

Speaking of the binding, those brassy double spirals follow the lead of the cover, in that they are very stiff, providing a solid backbone to the book in a way befitting the overall quality throughout. There is a little wiggle room or “play” in the pages, however I’ve not noticed this when writing, and believe me I would, for it is a pet peeve of mine with spiral bound notebooks.

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Those spirals!

Referring back to the “no bells” statement above — rather than a criticism, is more a reference to a design which appears focused on the essential requirements, and doing them exceedingly well. There are no pockets, bookmark ribbons, elastic enclosures or pre-formatting on the paper other than the 8mm ruling in subtle grey.

I do tend to use ribbon markers if they are in a notebook, however equally don’t mind if they aren’t — avoiding the need to get them out of the way once the notebook is open to write. Pre-formatted page numbering and perhaps a date field? Again, generally used when present, though inconsequential if not. Plain, grid or ruled? Personal preference, for which I’ll take ruled nine times out of ten these days.

Specifications

The subject of this post:

  • L!fe Symphony N93 Notebook
  • Size: A5 (15x21cm)
  • Cover: Thick, stiffened card stock front and back
  • Pages: 200 (100 Sheets) acid-free paper; estimated at 80-90gsm
  • Binding: Brass coloured double ring
  • Style: 8mm Ruled
  • Features: Fountain pen friendly paper, hand-made
  • Source: Made in Japan
  • Purchased: Pen and Paper, Brisbane CBD, AU$26.95 (December 2016)

Looking around online, you’ll find A5, B5 and A4 variations, available in grey, red, and blue covers. I was unable to find a specific gsm weight rating, however the paper feels very similar to your usual Clairefontaine/Rhodia type weighting. Searching around reveals 8mm ruled, 5mm grid, and plain paper variations, however I am not sure how widely available these options are.

Some online retailers:

Writing Performance

Of course most of the notebooks you see on these pages from time to time are great for writing, and whether they reach the “just about perfect” status is really a matter of personal preference isn’t it. I’ve written ad nauseam about my preference for a little feedback on the page, rather than skating about one a little too slick. No surprises the same thoughts will be applied here.

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Bookbinders Snake Inks Ground Rattler (l) and Eastern Brown (r)

As I write this, I am 130 pages in of the 200 available to me in this notebook, and I’ve certainly no intention of not continuing right through to the last.

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Whether running a finger down the page or forming letters along a line — the paper is quite smooth. Not Clairefontaine notebook smooth (a skater for me) by any stretch, and not quite Rhodia smooth either — however probably not far behind. Therefore, on the feedback/tooth scale I’d say it sits squarely in the upper end of my preferred window.

Currently in my hand is a Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (FM nib), containing Bookbinders Snake Ink Red Belly Black. On cheaper, softer paper, the CH 92 will occasionally want to “dig in” a little, however that is certainly not the case here. Both the sensory and auditory feedback (on a quiet pre-dawn morning), are pleasing to say the least. I’d be happy enough if restricted to this paper for the rest of my writing days.

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Bookbinders Snake Ink Red Belly Black

Using a stiffer nib, such as my medium Platinum President, I find more of that “skating across the top” feel, highlighting the nib and paper interaction, which influences the perception of all our writing experiences. Add to that the usual differences in writing on the left hand page atop the stack of 65 or so filled sheets versus the harder, compressed, yet to be written sheets on the right. Whatever your particular preference or thoughts here — this is great paper for fountain pens.

img_7811Feathering, show through, or bleed are nowhere to be found, and I feel you’d have to use a very broad nib containing extremely saturated, very wet ink to change that to any great degree. You will be safe with most general writing pens. Dry time is commensurate with my Rhodia notepads, or a perhaps a touch faster with certain inks.

At this point I am probably meant to test and demonstrate numerous different pen types to illustrate how this paper handles them all (and I am thankful to those who do), however looking back through those 130 pages, I can find all of about three with non-fountain pen markings (Retro 51/Schmidt rollerball from a Baron Fig Squire out of interest). As you’d expect, handled with aplomb by the paper.

In a notebook bought on the basis of being great for fountain pens, that can hardly come as a surprise, and call this a “review” if you like, however this post is written merely as a reflection on how I’ve found using rather than “testing” — the Symphony notebook over the past few months.

In Use

One of the more common uses for my notebooks is to carry them on my lunch break, perch on a stool at the bar of my favourite cafe, and do some writing. Having purchased the Symphony notebook with this activity in mind, I soon found its suitability for the task was not quite spot on.

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With that iPad Air 2

The notebook itself is fantastic of course, however given its thickness, something as simple as the size of the spirals prevents it sitting nice and flat against my iPad Air 2 when carried together. A big deal? Hardly – though why bother when I don’t have to, particularly when there is plenty of flatness in say, the Baron Fig Vanguard of similar size (not thickness) which is currently fulfilling lunch break longhand duties.

Beyond such silly personal eccentricities, the Life Symphony No. 93 is what I’d consider a perfect desk book, where weight, thickness and spiral size matter less. It’s perfect for long form writing, with the A5 size constraining my hand, which at times can become a little unwieldy and careless on a larger sized page. Brief notes or meeting minutes – all perfect as well, however to me, a notebook like this begs for something a little grander. Perhaps some poetry, elegant prose, or even a your next novel.

In rounding things out here, I’d have to say from a construction and aesthetic perspective, the Symphony is more than well equipped to handle just about anything you could throw at it. Perhaps you’d see some wear and tear from repetitive backpack in/out cycles, though I think it would stand up pretty well.

Signing off

I’m certainly enjoying the quality of both overall construction and paper of this Symphony notebook from Life Stationery. It’s traditional without being staid; functional yet solid; and clean without feeling underdone or sparse. While it doesn’t suit my particular style of carry, it makes a fantastic desk notebook, and if you are someone who always uses a bag, my concerns are a moot point.

Whether a notebook like this represents value for money really comes down to how you personally value quality of construction and overall aesthetics. It is a notebook I consider represents excellent value for money, and would certainly buy one again – for my desk of course.