Author Archives: colinharmon

Weighing it all up

There has recently been some arguments on twitter and coffeed about the validity, relevance, importance and execution of weighing espresso shots. This arguing about accuracy and information has me wondering why there is so much resistance to measurement and why we as an industry are playing unnecessarily with variables?

There is an obvious reluctance to stray from the “craft” tag in favour of the “science” but I really believe the two are more intertwined than we realise.

Cheese making is undoubtadly recognised as a craft but question them on acidity levels, temperatures, yield weights, water contents and bacterial content and they’ll bore you to tears. Craft beers embrace a lot of the same refractometre technologies that the coffee industry is battling with today. So why the resistance?

The world showcase for baristas (The WBC) fror example presents us with a scenario where baristas have to use their “skill” to time their own shots.

We are led to believe that bad baristas can’t accurately time their own shots and great baristas have an inner clock that will help them nail each one. By this logic should a great barista know what a 20g dose feels like? Should we take timers from dosers? Perhaps great baristas should stick their fingers under the groups until they feel that unmistakeable 93.5c that all great baristas know.

The truth is that timers, scales, thermometres and any other piece of diagnostic equipment you can get your hands on will help you make great coffee. I know plenty of baristas who can count to 25 in their head but still make awful coffee.

Back in my banking days I used to joke that my job was to become so efficient that my job would become redundant. I said this firmly tongue in cheek because I knew that whenever my daily tasks became automated through progress, I would move onto another more valued task with greater impact on my chosen profession.

Worst case scenario; all this mojoing and weighing, this tds reading and timing, this temperature stability and pressure profiling, this absolute brew recipe emailing collective will end us up in a place where the craft of the barista is forgotten.

The barista would have so many definitives in place that he would have no personal input into how the coffee tastes. He (or she!) would become nothing more than a conduit that would apply the necessary science to make the final cup as perfect as it could possibly be.

In this hellish future, someone will come into my shop and ask me to recommend a coffee. I’ll talk them through my personal favourite that day and tell them a little bit about the terroir, processing and all the other realms of information I have to hand.

 I’ll grind this coffee to its optimum grind specifically chosen for the brewer it will pass through. The brewing process will be specifically tailored for this coffees varietals, density, roast profile and process. It will take all these factors into account and combine it with the requisite brewing time, temperature, yield, extraction, tds and water recipe. The final cup will be an amazingly pleasurable beverage that is a perfect representation of that individual coffee.

In this hellish future I will have researched my coffee and applied the best technologies and accuracy to my delivering the coffee. I won’t have made any guesses in the making of it and there will be enough definitives in place to write a hefty essay on that one cup.

In this hellish future I will be more of a professional than I am today and the customers and my peers will recognise that.

In this hellish future, I won’t be the star, the coffee will be. Is that such a scary thought?

Falling in love with espresso, 1.55 times over again.

Perhaps one of the most exciting thing about specialty coffee is the enormous leaps and bounds we seem to be taking year after year. Even looking back at past WBC’s is a timely reminder of how far the industry moves forward. I often look back at how I myself would have approached a given task only months before and have a little cringe. I hope to shudder at the thought of what I’m doing today when I look back next February. Its moving that fast.

It seems of late that filter coffee has been the main focus of most baristas attention, and in truth there was good reason for that. Filter coffee, at least in the context of the UK and Ireland, was in dire need of some attention and I feel that we’re well on the way to achieving a long-term impact on how filter coffee is perceived, made and consumed in these parts.

Coupled with this new-found appreciation for filter however has come unfortunately, a disenchantment with espresso.  Advancements in filter brewing, albeit with age-old techniques, and the appearance of the extract mojo on the market meant that focus was shifted, certainly online, towards the perfection of filter.

Part of me feels however, that the coffee community just became tired of talking about espresso and needed to make new headway else where. It became quite difficult to make advancements in espresso, but if you take a method that you know nothing about and nobody appreciates it’s a lot easier to make progress.

Despite competing in espresso based competitions I feel myself that I took my eye off the ball with regards to espresso and its only recently that I’ve really began to go back and finish my homework on espresso brewing.

Ironically what really elevated my interest and capability with regard to filter coffee was in fact the extract mojo and the very same tool has now pushed me back from whence I came, towards espresso. The lessons it has taught me in the last few months (once I’d downloaded the espresso app) have really helped me push my understanding of espresso and make me excited about the amount of work we still have to do.

A recent argument on Twitter, amongst some of my most respected peers, surrounded the definition and validity of the “ristretto”, yet we all seem to be disagreeing on what it actually means. This is not only shocking but embarrassing for us all as an industry that we can disagree on something so fundamental.

The more common interpretation of a ristretto is undoubtedly an espresso knocked off early. I would be of the mind that we should probably standardise its meaning in terms of extraction yield/TDS as ultimately the latter can ensure we can still achieve a balanced flavour profile albeit with a higher TDS (see Filter to Clover to Syphon to Aeropress to espresso). The real message in this argument however is that we should really start trying to improve our espresso rather than slag it off, because we can all agree that when it is good, its amazing.

Once I had worked away at the espresso mojo I began to understand the error of my ways and a few home truths began to ring clear. A familiar thought process for me would be; “Espresso’s running too fast. Add a tad more coffee”. This is something I would never consider with filter coffee, so was I applying this pocket logic to espresso?

I also found myself nodding at the screen on reading James Hoffmanns post about a 65% brewing ratio (i.e. your dose should be 65% of your espressos weight) as it was completely in line with our own espresso recipes we had been accruing over the previous few weeks.

Lately, however, we have been approaching it from a different angle with some great results. We take that same 65% ratio and invert it to achieve a target weight. Therefore, if you invert 65% you get a ratio of 1.55. Then, if you have a dose of 20g and multiply that by 1.55 then you are presented with a target weight of 31g. If you can achieve this within an acceptable time limit then more often than not you will find a very tasty outcome. The advantage of this is that you can’t retrospectively change your dose, but you can control your extraction weight.

(Different machines and baskets suit different doses so take a dose, multiply by 1.55 and let me know how you get on)

Training new staff lately, this method has become a real revelation for us. Lesson one in any baristas training these days is weighing dose and extraction and adjusting the grind to suit. Once you have the dose and yield as a constant it becomes enormously easier to understand the other variables involved in achieving this.

With this new approach I have also found that the more I look into it, the more I feel that the traditional approach for espresso that I often derided is now popping up with smug little winks. A recent training day I did with Illy in Dundalk had us pulling 14g shots, as is their want. I’m not a massive fan of Italian coffees but once I applied the 1.55 ratio and changed the grind to suit we were achieving perhaps the tastiest shots of the day on 14g doses. Regardless of what your coffee choice is, there is a scientific logic to getting the best from it and I’m now finding my old approach of a “slight updose” quite laughable.

I do love filter and will continue to love it and learn as much about its brewing as I can. However, I do feel that I would love to see more analysis, documentation and discussion on espresso and how we can improve it. As rewarding as these last few months have been for me and my espresso, I look forward to reading back over this post in 6 months time with an espresso that sets a whole new standard.



Two guys walk into a bar…

A guy is walking down O’Connell street and bumps into a mate of his from way back. They haven’t seen each other in quite a while and decide its about time they should sit down and catch up. Now, they’re not sure whether they fancy a pint, a bite to eat, a coffee or maybe even something a bit different, like a gallery or show, but they can’t think of anything thats on right now.

“I know” says the first guy, “we can head to the Twisted Pepper. There’s always something on there”.

This story isn’t a true one. I’ve made it up.

However, when myself Eoin and Trev from the Twisted Pepper sat down to discuss the concept of having 3FE as resident baristas at the Twisted Pepper we had this kind of scenario in mind and we wanted to build a social destination for Dubliners that wasn’t built entirely on booze.

Eoin and Trev and a simple message.


In the last few weeks there’s been a sense that we’ve found another gear, both at the Twisted Pepper and from 3FE’s perspective. That vision of an almost “Perpetual Festival” is really coming to fruition and people are really starting to grasp the concept that we began carving out when we lobbed an espresso machine on a counter in the hallway of an inner city nightclub.

Aside from our own expansion, the Twisted Pepper under the guidance of Eoin and Trev have been slowly shaping the venue into a hub of activity that really doesn’t rule anything out. In recent weeks we’ve seen comedy, acoustic music, world class djs, roller derbies, alternative life drawing, drum classes, corporate AGMs, dance classes, computer gamers, capoeirha, forest raves, TED talks, spoken word events (Banter being a highlight), samba dancers… name but a few.

Whilst all this is going on we at 3FE have been at the centre of all the activity happening around us in the various rooms off the main cafe. Its allowed us not only to reach out to a very diverse market on a weekly basis but also to act as an anchor draw for the Twisted Pepper to attract more and more events to the building.

We’ve recently made the jump to going 10am-7pm seven days a week and the Twisted Pepper is doing the same from 6pm-10pm. We’ve always wanted to present a destination where you can pop in for a drink or a coffee on the way home from work and its already taken off in the last 2 weeks.

This coming weekend sees not only the much-heralded Beatyard festival (across both the Twisted Pepper and her sister ship the Bernard Shaw) but also the launch of a weekly fashion market in the main stage room of the building. Every Saturday from now on we’ll have clothes, records, photography and other bits and bobs on sale and live djs for shoppers and coffee drinkers alike.

The next few weeks will see more and more diversity in the offering and 3FE will be at the heart of it all offering up coffees to the most random events Trev and Eoin can get hold of. If you think you’d like to join in or even have an idea for an event that you think would be worth pitching then we’d love to hear from you (you can contact Eoin at

We’ve had a hard slog since we joined forces last December but we’re finally starting to see the growth of a destination venue that Dublin can be proud of. Time to jump on board.


Sunday School; French Press

The Bloom forms (newer batch to the right)

I am delighted to announce that 3FE will be going 7 days a week from now on. On top of that we’ve decided to go until 7pm on weekdays too!

Sundays are gonna be our day for classes going forward and we’re gonna start the ball rolling with our French Press Class this coming Sunday.

The French press (Cafetiere, Plunger, Press Pot) is a great way to enjoy coffee and can be just as satisfying, if not more so, than the other brewing methods. Its simple, tasty, cheap and although easy to use, it is often misused. We’d like to show you why we love french press and help you get the most from your coffee at home.

Places are limited and as always there’ll be a free bag of coffee for every participant.

Places can be booked here

See you Sunday!


100 not out. Happy 100th Inmymug

On the mitch in Atlanta

This week is a big week for coffee lovers, and particularly internet coffee lovers in that it marks the 100th episode of Steve Leightons “In My Mug” videos.

Next weeks episode would be the 100th “consecutive” edition but for a week in 2009 when Steve came to Atlanta to support me in my first WBC bid. I feel both honoured and guilty to be the reason why Steve had a “blip” week and I suppose this blog post is in some way for my own redemption.

Greater than that however, is the strong sense of admiration I have for Steve coupled with the huge debt I (and countless other coffee lovers) owe him for bringing me on a wonderful journey from washed Yirgs to natural Brazilians to pulped Sumatrans and everything in between.

Every week people all over the world (seriously!) receive a bag of coffee in the post, and then sit down to watch Steve talk them through it and sip the coffee and compare flavour notes.

Inmymug has been filmed in a fishing boat, at glastonbury, in countless cafe’s, at origin on some of Steve’s favourite farms and the odd time at his roastery in Stafford. He’s done them with friends, groups, strangers and even me!

He’s even managed to chuck it together when he’s been violently ill, adamant that he won’t let down his loyal customers. Its sometimes weird, always engaging and seriously rewarding for any coffee lover.

What makes inmymug really unique however is Steve’s insistence that it remain accessible to the beginner and completely available to anyone who cares to watch it regardless of whether they subscribe to the coffee or not. That says an awful lot about Steve really.

If you’re getting into coffee and want to learn more then just watching the weekly episodes will accelerate your learning ten fold. Subscribing means a whole lot more.

Next week is a huge week for Steve and I urge you all to join me in congratulating him on such an amazing achievement. Steve is one of those people thats in the engine room of our industry, pushing it on through sheer drive, hard work and most of all passion. Congratulations Steve, 100 not out (bar one).


Esmeralda Tasting, this Sunday Oct 3rd

Haceinda la Esmeralda is a coffee farm in Panama that yields some of the most sought after coffees in the world and in the last few weeks we have been offering this coffee as part of our tasting menu as an extra bonus for customers. It is by far the most expensive coffee we’ve ever served and this weekend we’d like to show you why.

Despite its price, the Esmeralda has been a huge hit amongst customers and for this reason we’ve decided to hold a stand-alone tasting event for the two lots of coffee that we have from this farm. We’ve also sourced two equally prestigious coffees from Guatemala and el Salvador to give you an insight into what makes great coffee great.

As always every attendee will get a bag of coffee to take home with them. Please check out the link below to book and we’ll see you Sunday!

Book here!


Scoresheets; Yours to keep

This may be hard to believe but once upon a time I was a bad barista. Yeh, I know.

In order to redress the situation I began pestering people with questions, anecdotes and theories in the hope that they’d pass on their hard-earned knowledge. In most cases, they did.

One such person was Stephen Morrissey, who one day did something very simple for me which made a huge impact on how I approached competition, my job and everything that followed after. He showed me his scoresheets.

Now, at the time Stephen was the incumbent World Barista Champion and one of the biggest name in coffee. I on the other hand was petrified by talk of dosing, extraction and latte art and was in complete awe of the baristas I watched online and in the busy cafes of London. I was weeks away from competing at my first WBC and felt enormously out of my depth.

Stephen’s very selfless act helped me in a lot of ways, but mostly because it demystified the job of a barista. He showed me the video of his performance and talked me through the scores. He cringed at the points lost, pointed out his errors (a farm called Guatemala?) and pretty much showed me that he was human after all.

It would have been easier to keep the scoresheets to himself and go along with the idealistic opinion I had of him that day but he chose not to. In truth, despite laying bear all his shortcomings, my estimation of him grew.

In later months I was lucky enough to bear witness to a handful of other baristas scoresheets and each time I got the chance I lapped them up taking mental notes and learning lessons like they were maps through a mine field.

I have therefore decided to pass on this kind gesture and publish my scoresheets so other aspiring baristas can see the anatomy of a competition run and also reveal the glaring errors that I made along the way.

Another reason I have decided to do this is perhaps slightly more delicate a discussion to have and that is the topic of transparency. Anyone who’s ever been associated with barista competitions knows that there has always, regrettably, been a murmuring of collusion, bias and argument associated with the scoring. I, for the record, believe no such clandestine behaviour is at play.

I’ve always felt that however unwaranted this wink-and-elbow whispering is, it is perhaps the fault of the organisers for conducting scoring in such a secretive way. We all know the scores of the competitors so why not reveal how they got those scores and who gave them? The current set-up does nothing short of arousing suspicion and invite criticism.

My finals video (slightly chopped) can be found here and the previous rounds are easily found if you follow the links. The pdf scoresheets are posted below so please download, watch and learn from my mistakes. I will also be delighted to field any questions you may have.

Finally I would also urge other competition baristas to follow suit and post your own scoresheets. If we are to move forward as an industry I firmly believe that disclosure, transparency and the sharing of knowledge is the key to our mutual success.

FINALS Ireland-Colin Harmon-HeadRD

FINALS Ireland-Colin Harmon-TechDM

FINALS Ireland-Colin Harmon-TechMY

FINALS Ireland-Colin Harmon-SensMM

FINALS Ireland-Colin Harmon-SensJG

FINALS Ireland-Colin Harmon-SensSH

FINALS Ireland-Colin Harmon-SensAP

Shooting the messenger.

I’m sitting on the train on the way home and for the first time i’ve been compelled to post something off my iPhone (forgive the inevitable spelling mistakes).

Having just flicked through Twitter and facebook I’m near on shocked by the amount of people that seem intent on slagging off their customers. Deriding their orders, mocking their choices and lamenting their lack of knowledge is really not something that we should be doing. If anything it speaks volumes about our own inadequacies as an industry.

I’ve spoken with many baristas, roasters and other coffee professionals about how lucky I feel to be part of such a vibrant and thriving industry. I often feel like I’ve come accross a secret and it’s only a matter of time before everyone else clocks on too.

However lately I’ve seen a tendency from people working in coffee ( and admittedly other specialty fields too) to have a pop at customers for not “getting” it.

I think perhaps we should remind ourselves every now and then that ensuring our customers “get” it is in fact our job.

If your customers are ordering large drinks it’s probably because you sell large drinks.

Peoples ability to order syrups is directly linked to the availability of syrups.

If your customers don’t appreciate filter coffee it’s probably because they’ve had a bad experience. It’s up to you to turn it into a positive experience.

If there seems to be a lack of knowledge amongst your customers it’s up to you to fix that without being intrusive or demanding. Engage them, it’s your job!

A wise man (who needs no further praise from this blog) once pointed out to me that by the time you’ve sat down in a restaurant and looked at the menu you know whether its ok to ask for ketchup. What the restaurant industry does really well is build context, and context is everything if you want to guide your customers. If they never ask for it its probably because of two things;

(i) They don’t know it exists

(ii) Their perception of it is different to yours.

The surly Barista is a stereotype that really needs knocking on the head but unfortunately it’s probably a justified one. It’s up to us as an industry to make this easy for our customers and realise that every sarchastic tweet is damaging every other shop in this industry that’s trying to do a good job.

Be nice, our futures depend on it.


Calling you out….Eleven People I’d love to see compete

So. I decided that there were a lot of people in the Coffee Industry that I would love to see compete and woke this morning to discover that one has already hilariously thrown his hat into the ring. The rest I’m sure will follow suit in the coming days….

Tim Varney (Tim Wendelboe) See here. Cant wait.

1. Mark Prince (Coffee Geek)- Dave Walsh blazed a trail for “non-industry competitors” last year. Your move Mark. (he should be made use a single estate coffee)

2. Cosimo Libardo (Nuova Simonelli)- This year Nuova Simonelli will supply machines for the last time before the contract goes back out to tender (they may win it back of course) so who better to get the most from the machine. Cosimo is someone I greatly admire and anyone who knows him knows he’s a competitor. Game on.

3. Tim Styles (Tropical Saloon, Square Mile Coffee, Espressopants, The Meat Wagon)–  If you visited Penny University you’d understand what service was all about. Judging Tim would be as pleasurable as would be fascinating.

4. Mike White (Free Lance, NY tour guide to the stars, Shot Zombies) – Writes for the NY Times. Enough said.

5. Doug Zell (Intelligentsia)- Now that none of his baristas are competing this year its pretty much perfect timing for Mr. Zell to step up to the plate. Nobody has more resources at hand (two WBC champs on his pay roll for starters), I’m 1000% certain he’d do an amazing job. I’d pay to see it.

6. Vince Fedele (Extract Mojo)- We can’t even conceive what Vince would come up with. He would reinvent the whole thing and explain in 15mins what we’ve all been messing around with for the last ten years or so.

7. Kentaro Maruyama (Maruyma Coffee)- How much fun woud this be? Kentaro is one of the worlds most influential coffee cuppers/buyers/roasters. Huge knowledge, huge heart and an amazing coffee proffessional.

8. Ben Kaminsky (Ritual Coffee)- I love Ben. Ben says what he thinks. Ben would do a great job, finish on 10mins and spend the remaining 5mins talking the judges through their scores. Has to happen.

9. Aida Battle (Kilimanjaro, Mauritania etc. El Salvador) – As competitors begin to talk more and more about farms it makes an awful lot of sense for a farmer with Aida’s status and reputation to take to the stage

10. Steve Leighton (Hasbean)– As long as he opened with the lines “Hello Judges, and welcome to in my mug.”

11. Paul Stack (Marco)- He’s still using the line “I’m not really a coffee person”. In truth Stack is as creative, passionate and engaging as anyone in coffee. He also has a history in amateur theatre. No brainer….

Thoughts? Missed anyone?

This is not an espresso class…


…its an espresso appreciation morning!

Our aim for the next event at 3FE is not to to teach you how to make espresso, but simply to present you with a wide variety of coffees served as espresso and help you develop preferences and  understanding of this most complicated of brew methods.

We’ve got some amazing coffees in for you so all you gotta do is turn up and taste and have a chat, simple as. We will of course have a bag of coffee for every participant too.

We kick off at 11am on Saturday so sign up here and we’ll see you there!