Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Book and a Research Project

2016 sped by, and I didn’t write here at all. Here’s what’s been happening…

A book

Most of my writing energies have gone into an illustrated coffee dictionary that will be published in September with Octopus Publishing. The Format is pretty flexible with varying numbers of entires per letter of the alphabet, accompanied by Illustrations from Tom Jay. I really enjoyed writing this and look forward to publication.

Its a very different book to the water book I co-authored with Chris, which we will be releasing a second updated edition of this year also. The Dictionary consists of approximately two hundred words per entry, which afforded both freedom and restriction, resulting in a fun challenge.  The book looks to cover a wide variety of topics within the world of coffee and be easy to pick up and read whilst also not shying away from complex topics. The idea was to write something that could be picked up and enjoyed by both the causal enthusiast and the industry professional.

A research project 

Collaboration and research in coffee is only growing and I am thrilled to have been able to take part in various research projects over the last couple of years.

Launching our capsule range has been exciting and rewarding in a number of ways. There are many aspects of the project that I personally find very interesting, whether it be technology, ideas of freshness and quality, as well as how the idea is interpreted and received.

If you were to list the main topics of conversation and consideration that swirl around the capsule concept, I would wager that they are the following.

Convenience/Automation

Quality

Sustainability

It is this last topic that is at the heart of the research project we are currently collaborating on with Bath University. I met DR Alf Hill having a cup of coffee in Repack espresso near where we used to live. At the time he was working in Nuclear waste management. Alf is now lecturing in the department of chemical engineering at bath University. I figured that Alf would be well placed for several questions I have about sustainability in coffee.

It is not uncommon to see an article or a tweet a along the lines of “Capsules are killing the planet” etc, and the gut feeling for most of us, i think, is that this makes sense. A single serve product that has visible waste that we don’t see when we make or buy and espresso or a filter coffee. However a little bit of exploration and digging quickly tells a very different story.

The concept of cradle to grave studies, also known as Life Cycle assessment, is a technique to assess the environmental impact of a product. The value of the technique is to compile a critique that avoids a narrow outlook.

In simple terms, all products have a long journey before they get to us. This journey has its own energy use and waste that most of the time is extremely difficult to consider and perceive as an end user. The results are often extremely surprising, with these studies challenging our assumptions about sustainability.

In Dublin at the World Barista Championship earlier this year I had a chat with a sustainability expert. She extolled her surprise at the disproportionate focus on the sustainability of capsule coffee in media. The simple answer is, its an easy story that grabs minds even if it is not true or accurate.

Exploration of existing research on the topic throws up some surprising findings, an immediate stand out being that the out and out winner in terms of least environmental impact is instant coffee and that way out behind is hand crafted espresso.

Of course sustainability means more than environmental impact, it means economical sustainability, wether it be the livelihood of the producer or the success of a coffee roastery. It may also refer to a focus on improving the sustainability of quality in coffee. Ultimate Sustainability is dynamic.

In my next post I aim to explore the existing research in more detail and to outline more of the questions we hope to explore with our research project, whilst musing over many of the questions we likely wont be able to study.

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