Review – Urban Coffee Connoisseurs

A wee while back I was asked to review the latest addition to Urban Coffee Company‘s offering – Urban Coffee Connoisseurs – a monthly coffee tasting club. I couldn’t resist as I do love my coffee and can’t function in the morning till I’ve had my first cuppa and also Urban Coffee Company is my favourite place to grab a hot beverage whenever I’m in Birmingham.

Urban Coffee Company is a locally based company with an ethos to admire – improve the quality of high street coffee available outside of London and offer an alternative to the uniquitous Starbucks and Costa. As an independent coffee place it aims to offer a unique experience for it’s customers and from my handful of visits at both of it’s current stores it certainly does. It offers not only great coffee but a community meeting place for all sorts, including knitters and bookreaders.

For those of us not able to pop into store on the way to and from work or for a Saturday afternoon shopping trip pit stop, there is now the Urban Coffee Connoisseurs. Each month members receive 2 different bags of 125g of freshly ground coffee or beans if you prefer to grind your own, tasting notes, instructions on how best to prepare your coffee and access to the online Connoisseur Academy.

The two coffees I received were Laurocaf Reserva Terruno Nayarita from Mexico and SHG – La Luz from Nicaragua. The notes included detailed descriptions of the origin of these coffees – did you know coffee is one of Mexico’s most lucrative exports with over a half a million small farmers relying on the crop for their survival?  You also get Rich’s (the head barista’s) tasting notes to assist you in developing your connoisseurship!

The Mexican coffee was the first one I tried and as Rich helped to point out, it did have vanilla tones, though my palate struggled to identify the “sweet with sour Apple acidity”. My favourite was the Nicaraguan coffee with it’s chocolate and cinnamon spice flavours.

I prepared them in my coffee machine but would definitely recommend using a cafetiere to get the best out of the coffee.

I think a subscription to the Urban Coffee Connoisseurs is a great gift for coffee loving friends or to enable you to develop your and you can choose a sign up period from 3 months to 1 year. The cost works out to around £4.25 to £5.00 a bag, which is slightly expensive, but with the added delight of waiting for your package to turn up each month and the chance to try lots of different styles of coffee and knowing exactly where they come from, I think it is a great idea. Sadly not one my budget will stretch to at the moment, but I live in hope I might manage to join at some point.

Coffee and Cake

I think the ability to interact with other members would be a great addition and bring the tasting club idea to life.

I received the coffee free from Urban Coffee Company. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 

Brown and Green on tour at Lymestone Brewery

A little while ago I was lucky enough to get myself on the first event known as “Brown and Green on tour“. Brown and Green are one of my favourite food shops that I’ve visited and I’m so lucky to have them just a little drive away at Trentham, Stoke-on-Trent. You can see my interview with owner Susie Keenan and what they are all about at my guest post on the Midlands Food Bloggers community blog here.

Part of the ethos of Brown and Green is supporting local suppliers and there is hardly a weekend goes by without one or more suppliers being in store with tastings. Brown and Green decided to take this to the next level by taking a group of customers to one of their local suppliers, in this instance Lymestone Brewery, based in nearby Stone.

It was my first visit to a micro-brewery and I imagine any other breweries will have to go some to beat Ian (Brad) and Viv Bradford , the duo behind Lymestone Brewery on their warm welcome, infectious passion for good beer and wealth of knowledge.

The evening began as every good brewery tour should – a sampling of some beer. No need to wait for service either, as we were all urged to try pulling a pint (something I’ve not done since my uni days!) for ourselves. there were 3 of Lymestone’s beers available to try – Stone Faced, Stone Cutter and Lymestone Cowboy.

After a brief introduction to the evening from Euan Keenan of Brown and Green we were handed over to Brad for a passionate talk on the history of brewing in Stone, their story, and a detailed look at the brewing process. Ian was head brewer for 18 years at nearby Titanic brewery and back in July 2008 decided to take a leap of faith in starting a brewery of his very own. It was clear to see that Brad loves his job, so much enthusiasm and passion, so you can see why they are perfect match to work with Brown and Green. Lymestone brewery have a selection of bottled beers they sell to the likes of Brown and Green, but also supply casks to pubs around the country. Their wide range of beers are always being complemented by new seasonal beers making them something to look out for at any time of year.

After more beer (of course!), a tour of the brewing room it was time for some food to mop up some of that beer with a fabulous buffet full of local foodie treats that are stocked in Brown and Green. (sorry I was too busy tucking in to take a photo before it had been devoured!)

So thanks to Euan, Susie and Jules of Brown and Green and the lovely Brad and Viv from Lymestone, plus the other lovely people that attended for a truly enjoyable evening. Can’t wait for the next one!

Slow Food Peak District & Staffordshire at Freedom Brewery

So after the hubby’s first forage into Beer reviews we thought we might indulge a little more and came up with a new series of posts to be called Bebida/Drink. So a few weeks ago when I saw there was a chance to attend a Brewery tour which was organised as the first event of Slow Food Peak District and Staffordshire, we could not resist. 

The tour was at Freedom Brewery, home to award winning hand-crafted English lager and luckily for us was just a few miles drive away in a beautiful countryside setting in Bagot’s Park Farm estate near Abbots Bromley. We have sampled Freedom beers at local food festivals and at our local gastro pub The Yorkshire Man and were eager to see how and where they were produced. The evening kicked off with a quick explanation of the Slow Food movement and what the new group was eager to achieve and then it was over to Edward and Susan Mayman, owners of Freedom Brewery for a tour. 

Edward began by explaining the company history and how a micro-brewery for lager ended up in the heart of rural Staffordshire. The company was originally founded in London in 1995, but as brew pubs became obsolete the brand was bought and within a few years moved to it’s current location, just a few miles from the famous brewing town of Burton-on-Trent. The location we learnt is part of Freedom’s success, as they are able to tap into the same water source as all those famous large brewing companies just a few miles away, which is perfect for brewing and requires no chemical treatment or additives for the brew process. 

Freedom Brewery

it's in a cow shed don't you know!

Edward went on to explain how all their products are created with just 4 ingredients: water, barley, hops and yeast in the traditional way. Freedom are very keen on making sure they get the best key ingredients and along with that all important water source they also take care to acquire their barley and hops. They have also sourced organic materials to create their organic lagers.

Freedom Brewery

the fermentation tanks

Most micro-breweries focus on ales and so it was interesting to hear how lager is made. The most memorable fact of the tour was that “lagering” is a german word meaning to store from when beer was stored in caves back in medieval times, and Freedom continue to do this important stage maturing the lager for 4-6 weeks before it is either bottled or transferred to kegs. This is in comparison to those large lager brands brewed down the road at Burton-On-Trent which are created in just a few days. It does raise the question can those ubiquitous brands really call themselves lager? 

Freedom Four

Courtesy of Freedom Brewery

  • Freedom Four – at 4% abv it has citrus notes and a long dry hoppy finish and one that I quite liked (pretty impressive for a non-lager drinker!) 
  • Freedom Pilsner – a crisp refreshing lager to rival the continental offerings. 
  • Freedom Organic – everything you want in a lager and Owen’s drink of choice, it has a subtle bitterness and is very drinkable. (thank goodness they have it on draught at our local!)
  • Freedom Organic Dark – brewed with blend of four malts it has multi-layered sweetness and a gentle bitterness. 
  • Freedom Stout – due to a demand from their customers, Freedom created this stout to add to the range, with a rich and complex palate and just the right amount of bitterness and warmth. 

With the sampling of beers we also got to try other local producers including some fabulous sausages specially made for the event by Denstone Hall Farm Shop using Packington Pork and some Freedom lager, sourdough baguettes from The Loaf in Crich and a range of Cottage Delight sauces and chutneys. A very tasty BBQ indeed. 

It was an enjoyable evening, learning about a very local producer and we can’t wait for the next Slow Food event. For more details on this visit and any future events please have a look at the Slow Food Peak District and Staffordshire page.

Hasta la proxima / Until next time

Two Towers Brewery

Now seen as I don’t really like to drink beer in any form (well maybe just the one!), Owen thought he would contribute with a few posts on local breweries and their beers. Think he finally realises us food bloggers aren’t an alien species after coming along to our recent meet up and decided to get in on the action!

On the most recent visit to 24 Carrots Farmers market in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham we discovered a local producer that we hadn’t heard of before. It is Two Towers Brewery.

The Two Towers refer to the iconic towers in Edgbaston, Birmingham that allegedly inspired the writings of JRR Tolkien and are just one of the Birmingham features that are used by the Brewery. The names of the beers are all routed in the history of the city.

Owen sampled 3 of the beers from their range and here are his thoughts:

Chamberlain Pale Ale – I liked this beer with it’s fresh citrusy aroma; it has a crisp and refreshing flavour. It is as light as you would expect from a Pale Ale and has some floral notes. It leaves a lasting tang on the palate with a yeasty sediment. I’d say it’s perfect for a summer’s evening of drinking.

Baskerville Bitter – I loved the full-on hoppy flavour of this bitter complemented by the classic aroma of a traditional bitter. It is a well rounded beer and could easily become a session beer. Full of body and with a tangy finish.

Jewellers Porter  – I enjoyed the deep classic flavour of the stout with it’s dark molasses taste. It surprised me with it’s complex fruity finish but overall very enjoyable.

The Two Towers Brewery also have 2 Mild’s and another bitter in their range. Currently I think you can get Two Towers Beers on draught in local pubs around Birmingham and also bottles at Farmer’s Markets like 24 carrots. Check them out if you’re ever in Birmingham.