Coffee of the month – Indian Monsoon Malabar

Indian Monsoon Malabar
Indian Monsoon Malabar

This continues my very amateur series of monthly coffee reviews. Last time it was the excellent Kenyan Kirigia Estate, but this month it is the exotic sounding Indian Monsoon Malabar.

A quick word on brewing. Up until the last few weeks I’ve been either using a stove top/moka style pot (which I thought was espresso) or a filter machine with hot plate. Having looked into things with serious coffee drinkers I’ve recently concluded that I need to get my brewing right if I’m going to make the best of these wonderful coffees I’m drinking.

An expensive espresso maker is just not an option and by all accounts good coffee can be brewed on a much more limited budget. A simple but effective method of brewing is the old cafetiere (french press). I found a good video from the Square Mile Coffee people on how to get the most from this method. I’m seriously considering getting an aeropress which seems to be almost as good as an espresso maker but costs only £30.

This coffee gets it’s name from the way it is stored in open sided warehouses in the port of Malabar where they let the moist monsoon winds circulate around the green beans.

I’ve so far brewed this coffee in the filter machine and the cafetiere. This coffee is definitely different and has an unusual taste. It’s quite light and open despite being quite a dark roast but there is a distinct hint of mustiness in there too. The tasting notes mention a tobacco aroma which I can kind of get a hint of, although I’m not sure this is a good thing.

It’s drinkable but I’m not entirely sure that I like it that much and certainly a lot less than last months coffee. On the plus side it’s unusualness makes it ‘an experience’ and I’m glad that I gave it a go. Not one I’ll be returning to soon.

Coffee fact of the month
The first coffeehouse opened in the UK in 1650 in the city of Oxford, followed two years later by one in London. The fashion for coffee grew thereafter, although the coffeehouses themselves did not always have the best of reputations.

“They were great social levellers, open to all men and indifferent to social status, and as a result associated with equality and republicanism.”

The great insurance firm Lloyds of London started business in a coffeehouse.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition

It was a ‘daddy and daughter’ day and my wife seemed keen that we didn’t hang around the house so I thought we’d go up to town for some adventure. Since I found that I could get in free, I’d been meaning to go up Tower Bridge and see what the view might be like.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The weather was one of those odd times when it is either bright sunshine or dark doom laden clouds. It was this changeable mix that made me opt for black and white for the day.

Shad Thames
Shad Thames

We started off from London Bridge station walking down the Thames path. This takes you past the Hays centre (A trendy mall of former warehouses), HMS Belfast and City Hall with the backdrop of the City across the river. As it was coming up to lunchtime we went past Tower Bridge itself and discovered the amazing street that is Shad Thames. It is flanked by tall warehouses (now trendy flats) and criss-crossed by walkways. Very noir, I loved it.

Tower Bridge Exhibition
After lunch we made our way to the exhibition which starts in one of the Towers. A lift takes you up the 4th floor, level with the walkways and it starts you off with a film on the making and history of the bridge.

You then get to walk along both the east and west walkways with the amazing views both up and down river. Particularly up river the views of many top London landmarks such as the Gherkin, London Bridge, HMS Belfast are pretty ace. Down river there is canary Wharf on the horizon.

The view down river
The view down river

Whether it’s worth the £6 entrance fee I’m not sure, but I certainly enjoyed it and the views are excellent.

Marathon training #2 – 13.1 miles

I said that the half-marathon was going to give me a good idea of progress, and it has.

The good news at least is that I can at least get round the first 13 miles of the course. The bad news is that I don’t think I could have taken another step. Things aren’t desperate yet, but I do have some hard work to do now to get in shape for the big one.

Hastings half-marathon
It all started fairly badly with the most chaotic and stressful starts I’ve ever had. We got to Hastings with what I thought was a reasonable 45 minutes to spare, however, what with traffic almost at a standstill and then nowhere to park I nearly didn’t make it. I was also busting for the loo and there were no toilets, ahhhh.

Always check out the route of a race. I didn’t and found that this race was amazingly hilly. Significant amounts of the first 5 miles are up-hill with one stretch of 2 miles continuously! This was fairly tough and I was very glad of my hill training at home. After the first 5 miles the route undulated or was flat or downhill which was good as my legs were about done.

I kept going through the unseasonably warm March weather (it really was a beautiful day), but I increasingly found as time went on that I was passing less and less people and many more were passing me.

During the race I gave a strategy that I’d read about a go. In this race I walked through all the water stops, tried to drink the cup and additionally threw a cup over my head. I still found drinking much water a struggle, but the pause was always welcome.

I was very grateful to see the ten mile marker as I ran through Hastings old town as I was fairly beat by now and I knew that it was just a run along the front to the finish. Those last miles, however, I found very tough and it was mostly will power that kept me going. Things got particularly desperate when I didn’t see the 11 mile marker and it seemed like forever before the 12 came into view.

I eventually made the finish line, though I couldn’t manage a final sprint. Very tired. Spent. Happy.

The Hastings half-marathon is a tough and hilly race and I only just made the finish. I did just about get in under two hours though, which is a plus. Not sure I’d do this race again, too much hassle to get to the start.

Now the real hard work begins…

Turkish shave

Feeling tired? Need a lift? Have a Turkish shave before work!

efe barbers
'efe' barbers

I’d not shaved for several days, I’d not really slept very well either and I was feeling a bit weary. I’d been walking by the Turkish ‘efe’ barbers in Ted Bakers on Poultry for the last year on my way to work, but this morning I thought I’d give it a go.

I was sat down, the seat was reclined and I entered the world of ‘male pampering’ (grooming for the more macho). A little moisturiser was rubbed into my face and then a hot towel was wrapped round my head like a warm, damp embrace. There is only a hole for your nose, but I like that I could just lie back and relax for a few minutes whilst my face hairs softened in the heat.

The towel came off and while I was being lathered with shaving foam I was asked if I wanted a turkish coffee. ‘This is very civilised’ I thought. Once fully foamy faced a new blade was attached to the ‘cut-throat’ razor and the shave began. It sounds like it should be a bit worrying having a razor to your throat but it was fine and the barber was confident and assured. All good so far.

Following the shave I had a quick sip of my coffee and then it was more hot towels, at least one of them smelling of menthol. Whilst the towel was still wrapped round my head, my arms and shoulders were enthusiastically massaged by a couple of the barbers, even clicking the bones in my fingers.

To finish things off there was a (marginally scary) flame wafted round my face to singe any hairs still left, my eyebrows and nose hair was trimmed and finally some more moisteriser was generously applied. I was so relaxed I could easily have had a nap. What I did do though was casually finish my excellent coffee and watch the world outside slip by for five minutes.

Definitely one of the better £9.50s that I’ve ever spent. Highly recommended!

Marathon training #1


Following several years of trying and failing to get into the London Marathon and getting injured before the New Forest marathon I’m now down to compete in the Edinburgh Marathon on 31 May 2009.

Contrary to intuition, the Edinburgh Marathon is in fact one of the flattest and therefore fastest in the UK. The course starts in the city centre but quickly makes its way to the firth of forth and then goes up and down the coast and ends at Musselborough.

Training plans
I’ve been greatly confused by the many training plans for marathons that seem to be out there. I’m confused as many have them starting a 20 weeks schedule with a ten mile run in the first week. For myself, I’ll just gradually build on greater distances each week with a fairly steady graduation.

Last week I managed three runs totaling 20km and i’m hoping to increase that this week. On the 15th March I have a half marathon race in Hastings which should really give me an idea where my training is.

At the moment I’m struggling to find enough time in my week to do more than three runs, but I know I’ll need to increase this somehow.

One big training issue I have is the fact that I live in an area covered in reasonably sized hills and all of my routes involve at least one and sometimes two or three climbs. In a way, I’m sure this is good training, but I do sometimes wish that I could have the odd long flat run without a lung-bursting climb in the middle of it.

My half-marathon race report should be the next milestone in the training plan and I’ll get a good measure of how I’m set then. I’m not panicing yet.

Coffee of the Month – Kenya Kiriga Estate

Coffee of the month - Kenya Kiriga Estate
Coffee of the month - Kenya Kiriga Estate

I’m starting a new regular series on one of my favourite things – coffee. I aim to get at least one batch of gourmet coffee each month and give my own short review of it.

The aim is try a wide range of different coffees from different regions and estates.

My starting coffee is Kenya Kiriga Estate Auction Lot 729. I bought this batch as pre-roasted whole beans and ground them myself. I used a standard drip filter machine to make the coffee.

I really liked this coffee, it is light, rounded with no sign of bitterness. Like all good coffee (and wine) it has a complexity of flavour and tastes slightly different when first sipped to tasted and then swallowed.

I also brewed this coffee using a stove-top maker but found it slightly sour and definitely not as nice as when put through a filter. It could be that my stove-top making was off, but I’ll be sticking to filter or cafetiere with this coffee for the time being.

Coffee fact of the month
The coffee plant originates from the mountains of Ethiopia in East Africa where it is the only place it is still found growing wild.