It Hasbean a pleasure

October 13, 2014

I was delighted to meet one of my food heroes last week. I’ve been buying Steve Leighton’s coffee for over five years now, making online orders to his company Hasbean. I ‘m hoping quite a few readers here may have discovered him through the link to the site which has been at the bottom of the homepage since the this blog started.

Not only does he offer a great range of small-batch coffees, often from producers he knows and has visited personally, but he is an instinctive master of social media. His infectious and exuberant enthusiasm shines through all aspects of the business, not least through his In My Mug podcasts – little newsy filmed reports in which he also tastes a coffee of the week.

The occasion of us meeting was Steve’s visit to a party to open the Pocklington’s Walk offices of Rock Kitchen Harris, the Leicester communications business which helped develop his website. I know several of the staff there are regular readers here (Hiyaaa!!) and I’ll return the compliment by saying buying through the Hasbean site is a very simple and well-planned process.

Steve used the occasion to film an episode of In My Mug – see below, though I recognise  it may not mean all that much to those who weren’t there. It does, though, give an idea of the kind of deeply informative jollity he brings to the process of buying your beans.

If you’ve not really understood the appeal of great coffee, I recommend you look at Coffee 101, the introductory course Steve has prepared that comes to you in series of emails over 10 days. I’ll finish by repeating one of my favourite sayings, which also got a run-out at the RKH do, “Life is too short for instant coffee”.

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Sorry it’s gone quiet, but a couple of so-so meals about which I couldn’t think of much of interest to say and general lack of writing mojo led to me taking a bit of break. But I’ll try and climb back on that pony now. Just hope some of you are still there.

I did get quite excited this weekend when I discovered that, finally, Leicester has acquired something approaching a specialist coffee and tea merchant. I’d been indulging in a favourite dream of mine to open a coffee shop featuring 50 varieties of  unusual coffees that people would try whilst discussing politics and listening to my eclectic playlists of Sufjan Stevens, Charles Trenet and John Coltrane. The next day I stumbled across St Martin’s Coffee and Tea when passing through, err, St Martin’s Square. I think it only opened last week and seems closer to my ideal than anywhere else in the city.

Big jars of clearly labelled coffee and teas line the walls, along with coffee making paraphenalia. There’s nice looking cakes too and Leicester-made Helsham chocolates,  and the design is all modern clean lines.  There appears to be just a couple of seats so  I think the plan is to develop a market for high quality beans and leaves to take away. A quick chat with the owner Andy suggested he knows whats he’s on about and he was keen to point out the beans are all roasted locally – well Nottingham anyway – and in the last few days.  Whether turnover means they can continue to meet that aspiration I don’t know but at least they want to do the right thing.  Beans aren’t cheap but there is a broad range of stuff that I don’t think can be bought elsewhere in the city  – blends start from £4.95 for 250g, while current stock also includes Monsooned Malabar, Ethiopian Sidamo and Djimma, Sumatra Mandheling, and Pasajquim from Guatamala. If you’ve got curiousity or just money to burn you can also get Kopi Luwak, the beans that have famously passed though the discriminating digestive systems of civet cats in Indonesia (£25 for 100g).

Some coffee beans recently

I’ll be going back soon for a longer look and to try some of the produce.  Those interested in knowing more about coffee might want to sign up for a handly little email course run by coffee evanagelist and roaster Stephen Leighton who trades out of Stafford as Hasbean. As well as selling wonderful coffee online and producing videos, blogs and podcasts about his life in the business, he offers Coffee 101, a course providing a daily email for 10 days covering the history of coffee and an introduction to techiques of harvesting, washing, roasting beans and making the drink. Each one is an interesting five minute break with a cup of your own favoured bean. Find out more here:   http://www.coffee101.co.uk/ or go to www.hasbean.co.uk .

I listened to a fascinating edition of Radio 4’s The Food Programme today which looked at the coffee industry in the UK and the “third wave” of coffee retailing. The first being dominated by the giant producers and based on instant, the second being the specialist chains based on push-button espresso machines and fuelled by the depiction of community in shows such as Friends.  The  third – now arriving in London (says the BBC) by way of Seattle and Sydney – is defined by independent, barrista -owned places which are based on high quality, differentiated coffees where provenance and varietal are important and the sell is based on the taste of coffee, not on the volume of frothy milk. The re-emergence of small-scale craft roasters (hello Hasbean!) is helping this.

The big players will always aim for rigorous consistency. A good friend of mine works very closely with Nestle in Switzerland and everything they do – whether for the bog-standard instant Nescafe  or the premium pod brand of Nespresso –  is premised on achieving a reliable, repeatable consumer experience. It would be great if people were being guided toward better coffee and I’m sure it’s helped them become the multinational giant they are  but it’s premised on a depressing view of life. By getting rid of the risk of disappointment, you miss out on the possibility of greatness. Coffee geeks talk in hushed terms about the “god shot” –  when the stars align and the combinition of bean, grind, tamp, water and whatever else gives you a heart-stopping expression of flavour.  

It would be lovely to think someone out there is planning to open a  cafe in Leicester where you could sit down and spend a moment discussing whether to go for the Yirgacheffe or the Harrar, the Sumatran or the Celebes, and where the barrista would tip you the wink about a great microlot of  Huehuetenago that’s just arrived.  Risking the possibility of having something you might not like may not be everyone’s, erm, cup of tea, but  I’d certainly welcome a place that aimed for something more than mere consistency. 

(The Food Programme will repeated on Monday at 4pm or is avaialble on iPlayer)

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