Down But Not Out

I went down to the crossroads,
Fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy,
“Save me if you please.”

– Robert Johnson

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This summer has been nothing what I planned to be honest. My old self would’ve wanted me to sit around in the sun, drinking beer and do nothing with my life. Go to work, put my head down and just survive. Chance had it differently though. Earlier this year I started my journey towards a straight edge lifestyle. It’s been a hard and rocky road to try and crack the code to what keeps me relapsing into a habit that will kill me in the end? It seems now, finally, I am on my way to a new life. Ironically, the world fell apart around me; all of a sudden our apartment was taken away from us, and then I was facing unemployment. My old self would’ve cracked open another bottle of wine and just crawl up in there and hide. Instead, my meditation practice had me facing the pits, and all of a sudden acceptance made me stronger than I’ve ever been.

I’m at a crossroad in my life, where I am either through with the coffee industry, or have to embrace it fully. To do the latter, I need somewhere to work that understands coffee, competition and still challenges me into growth. I have approached a friend of mine, something I’ve been reluctant of doing due to the fact I never wanted to work with friends since it might do more damage to the relation that good. But in this case, I have nowhere else to go really, if I want to compete and progress, and get to work with the kind of coffee quality that I set out to do when I came to Sweden.

So we’ll see. I hope his response is positive! I have two competitions in me; one for Brewers, and one for Barista. They both demand a lot of attention, and I will do them each one year at a time. Exciting times if my plans goes accordingly. If not, I’ll sneak out the backdoor and vanish forever on my bike.

NP: Cro Mags – Crush the Demoniac

Drifting Away

Ever since I first met Adam Goldberg some years ago, can’t remember how we initially got hold of each other really, we’ve stayed in touch and it’s always nice to catch up over a coffee somewhere in the city when he’s around. Adam has a wonderful coffee lifestyle magazine called Drift Magazine, with four issues out already. The fourth issue happened to be about Stockholm, and I was very honored to be featured among its pages with the excerpts below! Drift Magazine is probably the most beautiful magazine dedicated to coffee and the people brewing it, and there are many familiar Stockholm faces featured! Check it out!!

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NP: Beastie Boys – So What Cha Want

How Low Can You Go

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It was bound to happen. On paper, my escape from Lanthandelns Espresso was quite interesting. With my personal health cracking up, and a hard time matching my working hours with parenthood, I had to find something else to do. My friend who worked as a chef at Lanthandeln, had recently landed a job at a place with health focus, but with a desire to get the nights working with a fresh menu and interesting drinks. My job would be Front of House, and my friend would set the kitchen straight in the back, and we’d work together with a third person who’d act as the bridge between us and have full responsibility towards the owner.

I’ve had my ups and downs with coffee the past years, and I was looking forward to not take on coffee as my big task to start with, but get a good beer and wine concept going together with the kitchen.

As time went, frustration grew. People working with us couldn’t see the forest because of all the trees. How about this: you get a massive complaint that you haven’t refilled straws for the next morning, but they leave you with dirty wine glasses for the night. One day apparently, the chef had enough and a massive fight broke out. I was called in, and since we were considered a packaged deal, I was out too. I won’t lie; I was seriously relieved. Still, unemployed and soon without a home, things look dire. On the other hand, I am sober and feel better than ever.

NP: Foo Fighters – Low

 

 

Meditation

I think the purpose of having a blog in the first place, is to have something to say. As of lately, I have a lot of things to think about, but not much to give away. So what is the point then of blogging?

The answer is; there is no point. I’ve logged a few events and thoughts in my life. They’re on these pages. But what if I don’t want to be online, what if I don’t want to be found? What if I just disappeared? It might just come to that.

NP: Talking Heads – Nothing But Flowers

Visions of Doom

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It was an idea that on paper looked great; a coffee bar inside one of Stockholms most spectacular sites. I was invited very late to the party, since I was on paternity leave up until after the opening of this place. Nevertheless, I was very excited about this project, since it allowed me to work with great people in a great environment doing something, well intended to do something, great… In hindsight it is very easy to see where things went wrong.

The Dome of Visions is a meeting place for people to discuss topics around sustainability and innovation. It’s built and owned by NCC, and run together with the Royal Technical University, Open Lab, IVL and Academic Houses (and several more probably). In theory, a lot of the people from these various backgrounds wouldn’t normally meet, so this place was a melting point for them to start talking about theory vs. practice for instance, or sharing ideas regarding the future of constructing cities, urban farming, how to use resources etc. etc. Also it’s been a place with super interesting cultural events that fit superbly along the line with the topics addressed.

As already mentioned, this all look great on paper to run a coffee bar in. Like an everyday TED-talk bar, that’s what you kind of imagine, right? Wrong. I’ll start with the coffee bar itself.

The company I work for were invited probably cause they had been interested in a nearby location prior, and the contact was already made. They were invited late into the game. My guess is they saw opportunity to get the catering for all the events, and a coffee bar was a bonus from where staff could serve the catered food and drinks, as well as run as a bar with special licences on certain events. This is all good, since the events are held on the premises, and we do the catering, there is a given customer. From a coffee bar point of view, that customer is not ideal (at least once every event we get the “something wrong with the milk? there’s something odd tasting with my coffee!” because the only coffee from our roaster I’m happy serving in there happens to be a natural Yirgacheffe).

But if the customer that has chosen the Dome of Visions as a meeting place might not be the perfect customer, 85% of the walk in customer is a nightmare (the rest are my wonderful regulars) coffee bar wise. Why? First of all, we’re on a campus. Second of all, we’re on a campus in an area that happens to be the last ungentrified area of Stockholm, serving food at 1987 quality and prices. People here don’t care the least for quality. The first thing they say is: “Wow, that’s expensive” (no, it isn’t, only compared to that sandwich in the kiosk across the road made from the cheapest stuff Lidl has to offer). The second thing the say, or ask, is: “You have student discount?”. When saying no, these people actually walk away cause they’re not willing to spend an extra 0,30 Euro on a latte. Those who do comes back though, but they’re not students.

Price is one thing, but we could’ve become a destination if there had been a will to incorporate the ideas of speciality coffee, sustainability and innovation into the concept. If your competition does cheap, bad and unsustainable stuff, you have to go the other way. Buy micro farm dairy, and explain why it costs more and why it tastes different. Grow plants inside the Dome that we could use on the sandwiches. Fertilize those plants with used coffee grounds. We could’ve hosted seminars on growing coffee ecologically, debates on the pros and cons of Fairtrade, coffee tastings and on and on and on…

Just fucking do it, you say. It’s easier said than done. One issue is the management and the communication between all parties that are working under this umbrella. Noone wants to take decisions. “You have free hands” they say. Sure, when can we do it? “We don’t know yet”. And they still don’t know. Everyone is too busy booking events and cater food, and not really interested in these matters it seems.

And then there’s the building itself. It’s created with a background in Buckminster Fullers philosophy around building domes in order to create small self sustainable platforms where communities could save energy and grow plants and live happily ever after. One idea he had was to build a dome over Manhattan. The heat and energy from the humans and the machines would be enough to keep it warm. Manhattan has 8 million people and a lot of houses and machines that generates heat. The Dome of Visions has a coffee machine, and can host up to 149 people, but normally there are like 5 people in the outer room at the same time. To give you an idea: when it’s 12 degrees outside and sunny, it can be up to 30 degrees. With overcast, it’s about 15 degrees inside -the temperature drops rapidly. I caught pneumonia first cold month in there, cause the changes in climate was so fast I was wearing too little and didn’t bother dressing warmer since I gathered it will soon be warm again. And we thought the cold was a problem (well, technically it was, since the bookings of our events got in danger, so for the more prominent bookings, they heated up the place with diesel generators…), it was a small problem compared to the heat. If the sun is up right now, the temperature is about 55 degrees celsius inside the building. It’s not a place to consume food or beverages in. Even cold drinks don’t make it pleasant enough to stay inside. As a contrast to the winters problem, I got sunstroke the other week.

But overall, despite the hardships to work, I’ve had a blast getting to know people from all kinds of walks of life and contexts. We’ve hosted a water tasting recently, with a woman doing scientific research in this field the past 30 years. It has spurred some ideas regarding coffee comps for me actually. Also gotten to know a few people behind the company Plantagon, working with vertical plantations all over the world, has been interesting and inspiring on a personal level. There’s definitely been some benefits for me working on this project. But as of yesterday, I’ve done my last shift there. It’s sad but also a relief. I will miss all the people involved, and I am grateful for all the knowledge I’ve gained these last 9 months! Onwards, onwards they rode on.

NP: Quantum Leap – That’s The Reason

 

 

 

Catch you on the flip side

There are so many things happening in coffee right now, that I’ve lost track of them all. Social media is a vortex that just sucks you in, yet I feel more over it than ever. The reason why especially now, is stumbling across this quite astonishing article on the “15 most amazing predictions for Kali Yuga from the Srimad Bhagavatam.

The Kali Yuga, or the Age of Quarrel as it roughly translates into, is the time cycle we are in at the moment according to Vaisnava mythology. It is also called, the Age of Iron, which makes us understand that this isn’t really the golden age for the human race. Anyway, being somewhat a closet Krsna devotee, I have taken my refuge to the scriptures in order to create balance in my own life. And the more I read, the less I tend to find faith in anything the “real world” has to offer. The veil of ignorance is resting thick over our existence. Two of these predictions have been very accurate to me these past few weeks, and basically made me drop social media.

“Men and women will live together merely because of superficial attraction, and success in business will depend on deceit. Womanliness and manliness will be judged according to one’s expertise in sex, and a man will be known as a brahmana just by his wearing a thread.”  Srimad Bhagavatam 12.2.3

In plain English, this basically translates into the society we are fed with today. Your surface means everything, depth means nothing. Lately, I have seen the speciality coffee industry more and more desperate in sales and growth, that the old core values of quality and respect for the cause is really out the window. If you want to revolutionize the coffee industry, is acting like a normal corporation really the way?

The other week, I was involved in an interesting discussion on the structure of the WBC being predominantely male, thus shunning women from attending and therefor we have no female World Barista Champion ever in the whole history of the competition. I see this passage in Srimad Bhagavatam as a quite clear reference to this. In all of Hindu mythology, Gods have a male and a female aspect, which they cannot be separated from. By meditating on Krsna, you also meditate on Radha, even if Radha doesn’t even enter your conscious mind. The vice versa is also true. When focusing on sex, we separate ourselves from our spiritual path of unity. Not only sex as a performance, but as a belonging. I feel both sides are losing a battle. The structure is there, definitely (because it is part of maya, the veil), but instead of seeing ourselves as beings of a certain sex, we should see ourselves as spiritual beings, carrying all the qualities of what makes a man and a woman.

The last of that passage speaks another truth; a brahmana (someone born into the priestly caste) will be known as one just by wearing a thread (of initiation). A typical simplistic Marxist theory would say that is a good thing; anyone can be part of any class. But that is missing the picture. You are not a brahmana unless you act like one, accordingly to your dharma, your lot in life. We’ve seen it in a lot of churches around the world, where priests are acting very ungodly. We also see it where a lot of people say one thing about their position, then acts in another way. It will become even more clear in the next passage I’ll quote:

A person’s spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next. A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he dos not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar.”  Srimad Bhagavatam 12.2.4

As we see, not only the spiritual position, but the very core of business today, is left to the shallow use of symbols and symbolic language, filled with no real meaning. And if you can’t make money out of it, it’s not worth keeping. Is that why we all of a sudden see a surge of bad coffee sold at high price because of its symbolic values? Well, I’ll leave that to you to interpret. The last passage though is really what the coffee scene seems to have become. Anyone who has read a Malcolm Gladwell book seems to be a scholar, and people love that shit to feed their own insecurity. And the consensus culture (or more bluntly; conformity) on social media thrives on it, circle jerking until the end of time. Anyone who challenges the hegemony of the coffee culture is shunned, shut down or belittled. When they say they want to learn more, they want to learn what everyone else already know, in order to package it in new clever ways.

I see no interest in participating in this monoculture that is made up by nicely designed packaging with neat goody-two-foot slogans to feed the instagram and twitter conformity, when in fact they are just designed to become the next behemoth of coffee. I’d rather thirst for the nectar of my devotion (krsna) rather than to thirst for the simple gratification, what buddhists call trsna, which is the road to samsara; the neverending circle of births and deaths created by the thirst for materialistic wealth.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

NP: Agnideva – Damodarastakam

SSCF 2016

The Swedish Speciality Coffee Fest 2016 was held about a month ago. At the last minute, I was asked if I could judge the semi finals, which was a blessing.

To be a judge in a competition is a huge responsibility, but also a great honor. I think everyone who has at one point been in a competition, and then in a judges position, appreciates the effort of the competitor regardless of the results.

Many years ago, I worked as a hypnotherapist. There is a very strong force in the aspect of competition, and that is the power of suggestion. Suggestions, in the hypnotherapeutic sense, are prejudicial opinions based on prior information that we build our new experience from. Let’s say for instance that Volvo is a very secure car to drive your children in, you will feel safer in a Volvo with your children than in any other car. This is what advertising pushes and uses in order for you to buy their product. It happens on a subconscious level, so it’s not necessarily so that you understand why you have strong opinions about something or someone, that might stem from previous experiences.

It became very clear to me in the judges room, that the suggestions from some people competing were very strong, regardless of what they produced in the cup, both positive and negative. One clear example was a competitor that had printed a card with information regarding the coffee, that stated it was picked in 2014. Once that information was out there, everyone detected past crop defects.

From a therapist point of view, I understand this kind of mentality. But as a judge, and competitor, it made me think of the value of competing. How can competition step outside its mental bubble of excluding a certain kind of style? How can obviously unbalanced acidic espresso gain strong points in one country, but be a number 35 in the World Championships? Is the World Championships less biased? Or are their criteria in the judges room of a different context?

A part of me wants to leave the judges room and hit that competition floor again. But another part of me says, Why? When the coffee I might want to present won’t please the climate of judges in this part of the world? In 2011, when I last competed in the Barista category, the taste descriptor was “Fishermans Friend”. It was two El Salvador coffees in a blend. The coffee was brilliant. I finished last of 6 in the finals. If I would compete with the same coffees today, would I even make it to the finals with this kind of coffee? Or would I finish first just because I know most of the judges?  This question needs to be answered by judges all over the world in all judges rooms, and in honesty.

NP: Bathory – A Fine Day To Die

 

Northern Soul

“Same procedure as last year? 

Same procedure as every year, James”

 

A lot of things happened in 2015, some of it written down here on this blog. In last years chronicle over the past year, I touched the subject of my health. I am fairly sure now that I know what my problems are. In fact, they are most likely chemical and can be diagnosed and treated. This is my main goal for 2016 – to get well. One of my targets is to run the famous “Midnattsloppet”, a race in the heart of Stockholm during night time. It will happen in August, and my health focus is to actually be able to go through with this!

I had the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Barcelona, a city that I adore and plan to move to one day. In the meantime, I am actually focused on moving North though. Umeå is the major city in the North of Sweden, a boom town and a cultural centre. My girlfriend has her roots and family there, and for me I have lots of friends that I would like to get to work with on various projects. One of them is Costas, the pioneer coffee champion who has a wonderful place up there. He works very closely with farmers in Panama, but also with various importers of high degree Speciality Coffee. To me, his presence there is a great pull. But Umeå is also a foodie town, as well as a strong metal and jazz city.

Working with chefs has increased my interest in food and cooking. I’m not claiming to be anything fancy, but the fact that it’s quite easy these days to get fresh produce as well as interesting flavors and textures, has inspired me a great deal. This New Years Eve saw us do a very fun menu that I’ll present in pictures below (pictures by Mattias Eklund), and this is definitely something I will try to develop over time. My dream is to get a hands on training at the Taj Hotel group in India. Dream on dreamer.

 

"Perfect egg, with fenell and raclette fritters, fennel dills, avocado cream and tong rom"

“The Perfect Egg, with fenell and raclette fritters, fennel dills, avocado cream and tong rom”

"Oven baked blue Hasselback potato and saffron grilled carrots with saffron aioli and black tong"

“Oven baked blue Hasselback potato and saffron grilled carrots with saffron aioli and black tong”

"Quinoa balls made with cilantro, sundried tomatoes and Parmiggiano cheese, served on a bed with roasted kale, roasted brussel sprouts, avocado cream, wasabi tong, aioli and lime"

“Quinoa balls made with cilantro, sundried tomatoes and Parmeggiano cheese, served on a bed with roasted kale, roasted brussel sprouts, avocado cream, wasabi tong, aioli and lime”

"Veggie carpaccio:  with sous vide made beetroots, carrots and blue potatoes and cognac and honey grilled beets and a side of raw fried potatoes, aioli, saffron aioli and basil vinegar".

“Veggie carpaccio: with sous vide made beetroots, carrots and blue potatoes and cognac and honey grilled beets and a side of raw fried potatoes, aioli, saffron aioli and basil vinegar”.

"Vanilla and cognac sorbet with fresh mints"

“Vanilla and cognac sorbet with fresh mints”

So, wrapping up my “new year, new me” bullshit, I intend to live life as analogue as possible this year. I recently found myself engulfed in books (fiction) again, which hasn’t happened for a long time. Donna Tartts “The Goldfinch” and John Williams “Stoner” both touched me deeply. I want to get back into photography. I have so much music to make, with so many great people, I don’t know where to start! I am still working on my books. But most importantly, I want to meet people I love to hang out with more often. Catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a very long time, some scattered all over the world (Brazil, England, Australia, Germany, Spain… the list goes on forever), some so close I never get around to actually just hang out. And tea. I wanna drink heaps of tea!

NP: Frank Wilson – Do I Love You (Indeed I Do).

Back to the future

This year marked the actual year when the film Back to the Future II took us to the future of 2015, seen from the perspective of 1985. Some things are hard to predict, some things become true because you predict them, i e you make them happen.

I was asked by a popular Swedish coffee blog to make some predictions for 2016 in terms of trends and things to happen in coffee. Since that is in Swedish, and I’ve done it before with little success (but fun to do anyway), here is some thoughts from that post on my own little blog.

First I’d like to say that a trend analysis over a single year is quite hard, since we’re mainly talking about Sweden here, and Swedes are, despite their own self bloated opinion, rather late in trends, which makes it hard to predict what are trends awaiting to hit Sweden, what are lasting trends and what are just flavors of a month or two. As an example we can use the Raw Food trend that’s been around forever in America and Australia, and has been adapted by people visiting or living there, but for businesses to pick up on it has been rather scarce. But last year and this year two serious Raw Food cafées opened up in Stockholm, which makes it almost so out of date it becomes something new here. This is how Sweden works most of the times.

I think one of the most obvious trends, and one I have been very happy to see grow in a fashion I predicted some years ago, is the focus on all produce in the café. We’re seeing more and more coffee centric cafés/bars focusing on their food, their tea, their soft drinks, their bread and so forth. Coming up with great combinations. I’d say one of the starting points was Kura Café (and before that it was Coco Vaja), where the typical Australasian style all day breakfast took people by storm. The real hype though, started by Joel Wredlert opening up Kafé Esaias, using stuff from his mothers garden to make delicious stuff. And since then, a lot of cafés have succesfully done the same. One of the explanations I find interesting is, that it makes it easier to explain coffee if you treat all produce with the same care. Something for restaurants to copy. What I am hoping for, and since this is a big thing in restaurants, is to see more decent non-beetroot-with-chevre-vegetarian-options. Also, the recently proclaimed death of the single brew will benefit the other focus I hope to see increase; service!

Another trend we’re see happening right now is that more and more people start to roast their own coffee. Five years ago a few roasteries provided most great cafés with their coffee. Then, as more and more roasteries emerged, there seemed to be no real increase in great cafés. Some of the better ones then started to buy from several roasteries instead (so called ‘multiple roaster shops’). Now we will definitely see some of the cafés start roasting their own. One of the other reasons beside a great interest in coffee and wanting to be closer to the greens, is that two roasters, Diedrich and Loring Smart Roast, both have established sales- and service conveniantly close to home for these new roasters (Diedrich in Stockholm and Loring in Copenhagen), making installation, maintenance and service a lot easier and thus more attractive. And quality green coffee importers such as Nordic Approach etc. so close at hand, makes it very easy for small businesses to find quality coffee rather easily.

For Sweden this is hopefully great news, since we see a lot of action now happening outside the major cities, which pushes café trends to further parts of Sweden unlike before. What I really hope is that this pushes to maintain or increase quality rather than spreading mixed messages, confusing ‘speciality’ with ‘micro’ and ‘local’. But it’s also a delicate matter of pricing. We’ve seen some unfortunate price dumping on the Speciality Market, and besides shooting themselves in the foot, the whole market is effected by this. Compromising coffee quality and sending mixed messages confuses the consumer and it will take years to repair.

Over time, I see two necessary developments in the coffee/café sector, that is crucial to pave new ways. The first is more chains. We have a quality chain in Sweden already (Espresso House, which with their new design of their shops should be called Faux Barrel), plus a few really poor ones. But we would need roasteries, like Da Matteo has done already, to establish more outlets for their own products in order to get the brand well known. The second is branding itself. Today most coffee brands are very generic, and with almost no exception whatsoever, their coffee bags looks like the equivalent of Bordeaux labels; conservative, generic information and trying to look as authentic, which is another word for boring, as possible. The beer- and wine industries have done wonders in combining great produce with great branding. A good example is the producer Charles Smith and his line of wines. We need to see more of this in order to gain the attention from regular consumers.

For myself, as I mentioned before, I hope there will be a great deal more focus on vegetarian options in cafés. I also believe strongly that tea will be of greater interest to the public. Two things I hope to see less of is the coffee shot inspired espresso and Kombucha.

NP: Pretty Maids – Future World

 

Under the dome

After 7 months of paternity leave, I’m easing into work again. Part time at the moment, which is lovely. And since the place I’m suppose to work at is closed for repairs, the company took on yet another space as a pop up for a year. This is a project built by NCC, the large construction company, wanting to showcase their sustainability concept. Basically, it’s a place where art and house projecting get to meet, and we are the coffee bar for that interaction to happen. Luckily for me, there’s not even a kitchen in there, so all we can offer are very basic things.

This would be a great opportunity to showcase coffee, and I will during the fall showcase some of the best coffees around, most likely from one of my favorite roasters, Right Side Coffee in Barcelona, as well as some other coffees from around the globe! This is exciting since already I’ve encountered international students from such variety of places as Canada and Berlin, and they all seem very aware of coffee in a sense that Swedes are not.

Anyway, this place is beautiful in the Indian summer we’re experiencing now. It will be very interesting to see if it’ll be as pleasant when the temperature drops. The idea with this whole project is to log data regarding the micro climate inside, and we can’t make too many additions to the climate in order to keep it as accurate as possible. Who knows, maybe we’ll just turn into Stockholms second Ice Bar.

Another very great aspect of this little globe is that the theme is sustainability, and thus meat is pretty much cut out of the equation. Well almost anyway. You can read more about the project here: Dome of Visions (in Swedish unfortunately).

NP: Hüsker Dü – Ice Cold Ice

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