• Italy

    The Italian Riviera

    As the deep-bass blast of the horn signaled our departure from Barcelona, an overwhelming sense of relief resonated through every fibre of my body. I was on my way at last. The overnight Grand Navi ferry that was to spirit us to Genova just shy of twenty hours was a rusting hull of a ship that had probably enjoyed its last lick of paint sometime back in the 1970s. The fact that it was proudly called the ‘Excellent’ seemed to add to its general aura of faded glory, now overtaken by air travel and the perpetual pursuit for speed. Still, the Excellent was no slouch and resolutely ploughed (and occasionally…

  • Spain,  The Bike

    Back on the Road

    One important lesson that I have learned over the last few months is that you never truly know what is round the corner. After the indignity of a spiked drink temporarily turned my world upside down at the start of this year it has taken exactly 109 days, six weeks on crutches, four trips to A&E, three sessions on my sprained ankle from the healing hands of Acupuncturist par-excellence Tania Spearman, two x-rays on said ankle, one night spent in hospital with a suspected hernia later downgraded to a groin strain (Note to self: Do not attempt to lift a 50 kilo bike under any circumstance), copious amounts of Rioja…

  • The Bean,  Water Aid

    Water is Life

    Let’s face it, coffee is a thirsty business. Along with cocoa, cotton, palm oil, soya, maize and rice, coffee is one of the most water-intensive commodities traded globally today. The huge amounts of water required to ‘de-pulp’ the coffee berry depends heavily on the specific washing process employed after the harvesting of the fruit. The wet fully washed processing method, widely preferred to prepare the coffee Arabica bean for export, is the most intensive by far. Although washing techniques have improved over the years with greater use of water reuse, up to one to six cubic metres per tonne of fresh coffee cherry is still needed. Without reuse, nearly a…

  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain

    A Pilgrim’s Refuge

    Caelum Location: Carrer de la Palla, 8 Beans on the menu: Café Mochy Mezcla Caffeine delivery method: Cortado Crutch compatibility: 2/5 stars. Negotiating the steep stairs to the basement could prove fatal for the crutch-enabled crusader (there are street-level vestibules available for the less inclined) Hit to the wallet: €4,55 Music playing: Stevie Wonder (and friends) Website: www.caelumbarcelona.com Architecture aside, one of the most striking features of Barcelona is the prodigious amount of tapas bars and cafes. So finding good, distinctive coffee bars in a caffeinated city of this magnitude is a bit like trying to find a needle in a pile of proverbial needles. There are so many, they…

  • The Bean

    Brewing up the Perfect Storm

    The price of coffee is soaring. When you consider that coffee is second in value only to oil as a source of foreign exchange in terms of world trade and provides employment for hundreds of millions of people worldwide, the ramifications on a domestic and global scale are huge. In the past eight months alone, the cost of high-quality washed Arabica beans has increased by more than 80 percent on the London and New York exchanges, representing a 13-year high. Unpredictable weather patterns and a fragile supply/demand balance are largely cited as being responsible for this surge. Colombia, the world’s second largest producer of hand-picked Arabica beans after Brazil, has…

  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain,  The Bean

    A Shining Light for Generations of Coffee Lovers

    Cafés El Magnífico Location: Carrer de l’Argenteria Beans on the Menu: More than forty different varieties and blends worldwide to suit the most discerning of palettes plus a wide variety of speciality tea Crutch Compatibility: Sins muletas, con cojera (without crutches, with limp) Caffeine delivery method: Freshly roasted Tunki filter coffee. Also purchased: 250g Espresso Virtuoso Mezcla (Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia, India), 250g Ethiopian Harrar Boldgrain Hit to the wallet: €10,50 Music Playing: No jukebox required Website: www.cafeselmagnifico.com Señor Salvador Sans is a fast-talking Catalan who is serious about coffee. You could say that it runs through the veins. Well it certainly has been running in the bloodline for generations since…

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  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain

    A Small Corner of Coffee Heaven

    Mesón del Café Location: Carrer de Libretería Crutch compatibility: 4/5 stars (the liberal sprinkling of sawdust on the ceramic floor provides ample traction for the crutch-enabled coffee enthusiast) Beans on the Menu: To quote: “‘Top Secret’ South American Mezcla” Caffeine delivery method: Cortado, (glass of Catalan Mescaro, no ice), cafe con leche Hit to the wallet: €9 (and worth every eurozone bean) Music playing: Radio Catalunya Steadfastly resisting the contagion of brash souvenir shops that appear to be advancing from both sides, the Mesón del Café (Coffee Inn) evidently has its roots planted firmly in Catalan soil; and isn’t budging. Walk a few yards from the grandiose Plaça Sant Jaume…

  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain

    A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona

    Nursing a chronically sprained ankle whilst periodically pounding the streets of Barcelona on a pair of standard-issue crutches does have has its own advantages. Although not an exhaustive list, here are just some of the reasons why: The polite (but not forgotten) tradition of having doors opened for you at the threshold of establishments is revived with gusto You get your own personal ‘shopping assistant’ who will offer to carry your basket for you in supermarkets (most of the time) Your faith in the spirit of human solidarity is restored… between other people on crutches Motorists slow down – or even stop – as you cross the street You have…

  • The Bean

    Caffeine on the Brain

    It is estimated that more than two billion cups of coffee worldwide are drank everyday. Add the delightfully restorative drink ‘tea’ into the equation and no other mood-altering stimulant is consumed on such a potentially global jitter-inducing scale. So, what exactly is caffeine? Firstly, caffeine comes from an organic family of nitrogenous compounds called xanthine alkaloids that, when consumed, give rise to marked physiological – and psychoactive – effects on the human body. Other sources known to contain this powerful compound include the Gurana berry, Cocao bean, Kola nut, Yaupon Holly tree, and South American Yerba mate, amongst many others (so far, up to 60 plants are known to contain…

  • The Bean

    The Science (and Art) of Roasting Coffee

    It is said that coffee roasting is ‘part science, part art, and part magic.’ This indeed is true. In fact, the science involved in the process of roasting coffee beans is nothing short of astonishing. Witnessing the process for the very first time, this is my personal account of what happens. Now, I do have a confession to make. In no way do I claim to be knowledgeable or experienced in this fascinating field (far from it) but the following description is a humble attempt to record my observations and what I have learned so far. So here goes… “It takes 400 man hours for every pound of unroasted beans…