'Twas the night before WBC 2017

Wednesday, 8 November, 2017
By Mel Winter

It is the night before. To be more precise, it is the very early morning (around 2am) of Winston Thomas’ World Barista Championship 15 minutes.

We have long since finished polishing the seemingly endless crockery and glassware for the set to the sounds of Pearl Jam and Fat Boy Slim and Elvis, and although the apartment is quiet now, no one seems to be able to sleep. I wonder if Winston can? I wonder if any of the 60-odd National Barista Champs gathered in Seoul, South Korea to compete over the course of the next two days, can sleep?

There has been too much invested in the upcoming 15 minutes on stage to relax fully. There is too much excitement. There is too much anticipation. There is too much of an opportunity at stake to give it anything other than your best.

And yet every Champion I have spoken to has had the time to connect. Because they know that really it’s not just about that 15 minutes on stage, it’s about every single moment they get to spend amongst this crazy, global coffee community.

They have changed the rules about the back stage area, so there will very limited access given to anyone that is not a barista or a coach. Though I can understand this, it saddens me that I will miss out on that this year, because that is where the magic happens. The camaraderie. The friendships born in times of shared stress. The drama of things not going according to carefully laid plans.

As the competition grows ever popular, evolution is taking place, but just how far can we push this format? As Ben Put, Canadian Champion, said last night over fried chicken and beer, “This is a game where you have to think outside of the box, but inside the rules.” It’s a fine line and all the baristas will walk it tomorrow. We can’t wait to watch.

Winston is an interesting guy, I am in constant admiration of his ability to remain calm. I do not possess this ability (as the other SA team members will be able to tell you). His kind-hearted nature belies his nerves of steel. He is absorbing the pressure with maturity and grace and strength. And yet through all the calm and maturity, you never doubt his passion for one second. Winston wants semi-finals or higher. He wants it bad.

The South African team has done their country proud so far. Everyone has pulled together and worked hard to support Winston (who has given his utmost), and while of course we hope it will pay off on the scoresheet tomorrow, you can be sure without a shadow of the doubt, that the barista representing South Africa is a true Champion.

I feel very emotional writing this, and sure it could be the lack of sleep, but mostly it's just that my heart is just bursting with both pride and gratitude. I'm so proud of each and every person who has put their all into this and I'm grateful to be here to witness it. 

So as for sleep? Well, we can sleep when we’re dead. For now, we celebrate. Good luck to everyone!

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Build up to WBC Seoul: Joel Singer of Origin Coffee, Cape Town

Tuesday, 31 October, 2017
It's all very real now. Our South African Champion is on his way to Seoul to compete next week. Origin Coffee Roasters has produced multiple Champions over the years - they have a culture of competitive excellence within their business and believe that the competition format is incredible training for their baristas. We caught up with Joel Singer, owner of Origin, to hear his thoughts on Winston, international coffee expos and the SA coffee landscape. Photos courtesy of Origin Coffee Roasters.

You have seen many Champions come through your ranks, what in your eyes is Winston’s strength as a Barista Champion?

Winston is very down-to-earth and approachable which I think has a very strong appeal to judges. Like others before him, but to an even greater degree than earlier champions, he has had great support from across the industry in terms of personal support in training and also sponsorships (equipment, towards a very high quality competition coffee) both locally and internationally.

He is technically very capable. And he has shown a level of commitment, dedication, focus and discipline in his preparation for local and international competition at or higher than the level of the best Origin champions of years gone by.

How do you think the coffee landscape in SA has changed from Origin’s first Champion to now with Winston’s endeavour to make history?

The South African coffee scene has obviously evolved enormously overall. The number of roasteries and cafes has exploded. It might have started earlier in Cape Town, but it has spread throughout the major centres now. Consumers are more and more aware of quality coffee and of barista skills as a key contributor to cup quality. The level of competitors at regional and national competitions has improved substantially.

Despite almost 12 years of work (and many years of hard work by many others in the industry) I think the value of baristas’ skills still remain undervalued in the industry, and the price of the best quality coffee remains too low. We are not yet at the level of the best baristas and café practices worldwide – we have made so much progress yet sustained and substantial effort is still required to drive the level higher. In order to achieve this, we need consumers to vote to reward the best – produces, roasters, cafes and baristas – so that the underlying economic fundamentals are in place for developing a world class coffee and speciality coffee culture in South Africa.

What is the best part of travelling to these international coffee events?

The coffee industry is a relationship industry. At these events, we get to meet many coffee friends from across the world. We connect with them, share stories and ideas, and we also get exposure to the best of what is happening worldwide – be it in coffee production, café and roasting equipment, barista techniques or café practices. We get to learn about coffee culture and its evolution in other countries which opens us up to new ways of thinking about our industry. We get inspired to reach higher levels of skill by being exposed to the best of what is happening in coffee worldwide.

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Support Department of Coffee, Khayelitsha

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017
We love the team from Department of Coffee! They have plans to expand and you can help them do it!

"It is our dream to grow our radius and increase our customer base or in other words: to spread the word that high quality coffee is also available in Khayelitsha and not only in nearby Cape Town. To do so we aspire to serve coffee at cross roads, hospitals and taxi venues by using mobile coffee backpacks. Each backpack can hold 10 litres of coffee and can easily be pumped into a cup allowing us to spread delicious, piping hot coffee to 40 people at a time at locations beyond our store. We aim to give young unemployed youth of Khayelitsha the opportunity to operate their own backpack and earn an income."


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Cafe of the Month October Winner: Sagewood Cafe

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017
Congratulations to Sagewood Cafe for winning the October Selati Cafe of the Month Award! They walk away with R2000 worth of Selati Sugar products for their cafe! (Find out more details about how we're celebrating cafes in partnership with Selati here.) We caught up with Head Chef and co-owner Gregg Oosthuizen to hear about his journey with coffee.

How did a passion for delicious food lead you to Sagewood Cafe and a passion for coffee?

I think anyone who has travelled through the Natal Midlands and explored a little, quickly realises the beauty and bounty of what it has to offer. As a chef, it offers the potential for localised and sustainable approaches to food security. Seasonal ingredients to create with and an artisanal place to live in that just simply inspires. I started exploring the Midlands in the early 2000’s and knew then already that it was special and my dream was to eventually get here and have a restaurant. So from just putting it out there in those early days, I have slowly but surely meandered my way into it through an amazing tapestry of life experiences in and out of various kitchens both locally and abroad.. My partners, Con and Sue Malherbe who own Coffeeberry Café, and I met in late 2012. Since then we have developed and forged a relationship which has culminated in a successful partnership at Sagewood, and although we are based in Pietermaritzburg, Sagewood really is a little Midland’s oasis along the river in the hustle and bustle of the city. Our Coffee is sourced through the passionate and artisanal hands of Terbodore Coffee Roasters in Curry’s Post. With partnerships like this, it’s not difficult to find your purpose. So, my relationship with food and coffee has grown and continues to grow everyday, supported by a great team and a desire to put out the absolute best we can.

What coffee is in your hopper at the moment and why did you choose it?

We have two hoppers available daily.
One is our Signature Sagewood blend. This blend I created with Sinjon from Terbodore. It is a medium to dark roast blend which has a pretty strong, rich flavour. I like it for it’s chocolatey dark tones. It’s quite full bodied and gives a pleasant coffee experience to our customers. You could say it’s more neutral than the lighter roasted beans and so appeals to a wider range of palates.
Our second hopper has a single origin organic Ugandan bean which is more to the medium light roast. The profile is more fruity and a slightly more acidic. It gives a more creative flavour and lively personality. This one appeals to the more experienced coffee drinker.
The idea is to offer the customer the choice of coffee experience.

What is your favourite part of running a cafe?

When things are flowing in the shop, the experience can be pretty exhilarating. A flawless service with great food, coffee and our other treats coming out the way it is designed to. Happy staff and customers.
Those are the moments when I just love the restaurant business. The experience of it all coming together like an orchestra gives me a profound sense of pride and goosebumps all over.
Plates and cups coming back empty with a spoon still left in the customers mouth is pretty cool too :)

What would you say is the one item on you menu that people HAVE to try when they come visit you?

For breakfast : the French Toast with a flat white regular or naked Americano (my favourite) in a mug
For lunch : the chicken prosciutto or pulled pork salad with a hazelnut frappe’
All the time : something off our Bakers Table with a regular cappuccino

Thanks again Selati and Coffee Magazine, looking forward to using the Selati range of sweetners!

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Cafe of the Month - November

Friday, 17 November, 2017

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Gadget Alert! This all in one nitro cold brew machine from Brewista looks AWESOME.

Friday, 3 November, 2017
Ok, so there has been a lot of buzz over the last couple of years about Nitro-infused coffee, but the barriers to entry were vast. Prepare cold brew. Find Nitrogen canister. Work out how much nitrogen to flush through prepared coffee. Keep cold enough during process. Shew.

Enter the Brewista Cold Pro Nitro™. No nitrogen tank necessary

Don't ask exactly how it works, all we care about is that it DOES work. It recently won best new product at the Portland Coffee Fest, so it must function as promised

"The Brewista® Cold Pro Nitro™ machine infuses your cold brew coffee with nitrogen and dispenses it without any additional tanks or components!

Simply supply cold brew coffee from any container or keg and the machine does the rest. Brewista’s Cold Pro Nitro™ filters nitrogen from atmospheric air so there is no need for a nitrogen tank! The compact design pumps the coffee from your container and then flash chills it before dispensing. The result is a beautiful cascading nitrogen infusion and a creamy mouth feel. The release of nitrogen gas brings out the natural aromas of your cold brewed coffee." 

So now the only barrier to entry is price! At $4000 it may be a bit out of reach.

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Land of the Rising Coffee Culture: The Asian coffee phenomenon

Thursday, 26 October, 2017
Land of the Rising Coffee Culture: The Asian coffee phenomenon
By Pete Licata - World Barista Champion 2013

In June 2014, Hidenori(Hide) Izaki from Japan was crowned the World Barista Champion. This may have come as a shock to some coffee lovers, but it was surely no surprise to the people who have met him. He is infectiously friendly, always smiling, and passionate with a youthful energy. The people he meets quickly become his friends and there is no way to dislike this man. I had the pleasure of working with Hide this past year on his competition preparation. My consulting team discussed the initial idea making process, went to the farm in Costa Rica, and helped refine his English pronunciation among other things. I would not say that Hide won because we helped him though; I would say that we helped him show the true skill, passion, and vision that he has inside.

This is the first win for a Japanese competitor on the World Barista Championship stage, and also the first win for a barista competitor from Asia. Hide was originally part of the team from Maruyama Coffee Company, a small cafe chain and roasting company known around the world for their buying of top auction lots of coffee, especially Cup Of Excellence coffees. Maruyama is one of the most dominant competition coffee companies in the world right now, having won the Japanese barista championship for the last 5 years.

The win at the WBC stacks a crowning achievement on top of the Asian coffee community’s fervor for this industry. There have been a lot of other major achievements for Asians in the Specialty Coffee industry recently. Kapo Chiu, from Hong Kong, was the runner up at this recent WBC, and Japanese competitors have placed in the Top 10 almost every year since I began participating in 2005. Korean champions have been rising in the ranks as well. Taiwan has been excelling in roasting competitions and the Cup Taster’s championship (this year Pang-Yu Liu won the World Cup Taster’s!). It is no wonder that we now have a WBC champion from Asia, but if you have never visited these countries then you are really missing a big part of the global coffee scene.

Coffee has been an ever growing market in various Asian countries for some time now. My first trip to that region was to Tokyo in 2007 for the WBC. Even at that time I could see Specialty Coffee gaining attention. Japan has been home to “Bean Shops” and hand brewed offerings for almost a century, though the attention was not focused on what we now call “Specialty”. Over the past few decades, a new wave of coffee companies have been snatching up Cup of Excellence top lots, and serving some of the most exquisite and expensive coffees in the world. Although Japan has been entrenched in the coffee front line for a long time, it is certainly not the only country in Asia with a massive coffee focus.

South Korea has what some would call the most impressive café scene in the world. Seoul is the most densely packed arrangement of cafes I have personally ever seen. There are literally thousands of gorgeously designed cafes in Seoul, each one trying to showcase their expertise and ability in an impressively crowded market. This has created multiple organizations hosting competitions, and has created some confusion from the rest of the world as to which Korean Barista Championship is the one sanctioned to compete in the WBC. Regardless of this confusion, this shows me just how seriously and intensely focused the Korean coffee community is.

Taiwan is another relatively small country with a big interest in coffee. Boasting its own coffee farms in the Alishan region, this is a country connected to coffee as well as tea. The coffee scene in Taipei is far more subtle than Korea, but every bit as passionate. Small cafes with beautiful interiors, small scale coffee lots and roasting, and a dedication to the quality of the product are what I have found in Taiwan. It is quite easy to get from Taipei in the north, to Taichung in the middle of the country, and even Kaohsiung in the south. This helps keep the country more tightly connected.

Of course we can’t forget China when we look at the coffee scene of Asia. China is considered the “sleeping giant” by many, even though a decent amount of coffee is sold there. This is one country I have not personally visited yet, and I have no doubt I will visit in the next year. Pure statistics alone can tell you that China will be an enormous coffee market once the trend is in place. The power of such a large population paired with a growing fascination with foreign trends (such as coffee) will equate to massive consumption. China also has coffee growing regions in Yunnan Province, and it looks like more production is being added quickly. India is very similar in this regard with a huge population and growing middle class. India, however, is already one of the larger coffee producing countries in the world (arabica and robusta). Once the trend takes hold for coffee consumption you can bet that they will consume a lot!

There are also a number of countries that we tend to overlook in regard to Asian coffee. Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore are all growing steadily in their love of coffee. Southeast Asia is sometimes considered a different region from “Asia”, but the coffee lovers are still out there.
Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines all have coffee production, though the quality has historically not been great. With the increasing focus of coffee professionals in these countries and their easy tie to the farms, it is only a matter of time before you will find great coffee being exported from these countries regularly. On my trip to Jakarta this year I had one of the most impressive naturally processed Indonesian coffees I’ve ever tasted! The café scene in these countries is growing, though still fairly small. Surprisingly, J.Co and Krispy Kreme donut shops are highly focused on coffee in the Philippines and Indonesia. A few very beautiful specialty cafes have recently opened, but they are still the minority.

Singapore and Malaysia were huge surprises for me when I visited. The cities of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are surprisingly cosmopolitan, and the café scene is reminiscent of Australia, likely because of the close proximity and influence. Though fewer in number than Melbourne, the quality of coffee, food, and cafe atmosphere are comparable. Singapore has some high level cafes that seem to be expanding the coffee culture demand and presence in general. Kuala Lumpur has a pretty spread out café presence with an avid barista and professional focus. The coffee lovers I met showed me another level of the global coffee community and, being from the US, I was blown away by both of these countries and am excited to visit them again.

Clearly “Asia” includes a lot of countries and tons of people, and perhaps you wonder “how does the Asian coffee scene relate to me?” The answer is that you, as a coffee professional or lover, are a part of something bigger. You may have noticed me referencing the “global coffee community”, and I think this is an important way to look at what we do. At this time in history the world has never been so connected because of the internet, social media, and the ability to fly anywhere we want. Obviously we don’t all have the chance to travel the globe, but we can still be connected to people from everywhere. You can take pride in representing your country’s coffee scene. You can seek information and even give information back to the rest of us all over the globe. And when you get the chance to visit another country know that you are among friends. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Craig Charity in Italy during the WBC and I must say that South Africa found a true champion to represent them. Through the struggles of customs and every other hurdle thrown his way he always stayed positive and kept his head high.

So whether or not you think of Asia as a mysterious place with strange cultures, like I did when I was young, we share something that brings us together. Coffee!

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Ahead of the Curve: Espresso Lab Microroasters

Thursday, 26 October, 2017

Ahead of the Curve: Espresso Lab Microroasters
A South African microroastery with one foot in Scandinavian tradition, makes for a truly unique coffee experience.

Words and interview by Melanie Winter
Photography by Craig Kolesky

The first time I ventured down the steps to see the pristine white walls and minimalist laboratory style décor of Espresso Lab Microroasters, I might’ve used the word clinical, but for the huge smiles and cries of “Iain! Welcome back, man!” from the cheerful Vuyo and Jeremy greeting Iain, a Durbanite who visited every couple of months, by name. In 2012 when this publication began, Iain was flabbergasted that I had not been to Espresso Lab Microroasters and on our first business trip to Cape Town, that was rectified and I was properly educated. I was playfully berated by Lydia for ordering a cortado (they're so good though!) and promptly treated to a trio of alternative brews, strictly no milk. Three different coffees, three different methods. We were extremely grateful and our taste buds were delighted.

There is no doubt in any South African coffee professional's mind that Espresso Lab is at the top of the coffee quality pile in this country. Located in the trendy Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, this is a coffee destination to highlight, underline, put big NB stars next to on your things-to-do-in-Cape-Town list. As one of the long-standing roasteries in the city, they may not have the style of Truth or the soul of Deluxe or the barista champs of Origin, but they sure do have the coffee. They have very strong opinions on this coffee and those opinions have garnered them both praise and criticism over the years. They remain steadfast in their resolve to do it the way they do it and invite you to join them in this very particular coffee experience

Renato Correia, co-owner with his dynamic other half Helene Vaerlien, is a student of coffee and a master of roasting. Each batch roasted is art. Renato has been influenced by the Scandinavian led trend to roast coffee to a very light degree to highlight certain attributes of the beans. Their standards are extremely high and each barista takes pride in providing its patrons with the best possible coffee experience. One of the important qualities of the team is that they are always working on improving. There is no end to the learning. And their attention to detail is OCD to the extreme, in the best possible way. Before they had their Mahlkonig EK, their vacuum was always kept close to the grinder to get rid of coffee particles between brewing the various single origins. I kid you not. So when you visit Espresso Lab, don't order what you normally have at a café, let them rather take you on a journey and be blown away by something you've never tasted before.

We asked Renato and Helene to give us a bit of insight into their operation.

How did Espresso Lab Microroasters find it’s beginning?

Well, not sure how many pages in your publication you have, as this is a rather long story, but the short version is that we moved to Cape Town to find a city with great potential in the coffee sector.

When we opened there were only a hand full of coffee roasters, with only one serving specialty coffee, and nobody showcasing a flavor profile that we had been exposed to in Scandinavia, and we knew we did not want to emulate an Italian taste profile, as we had lived in Italy for sometime and been exposed to that industry at great lengths.

So we set out in 2009 to showcase light roasted coffee with a sweet high fruit acid taste profile, always chartering our own way, hopefully contributing to a diverse coffee community.

You were, and remain, ahead of the coffee curve in the South African industry and have never wavered from your quality standards. Was it challenging to introduce South African coffee drinkers to a forward thinking way of consumption?

It has been challenging at times, but it has never deterred us from doing what we believe in.

Too often in coffee, business owners say, “my customer won’t like that”, but if you do not introduce your customer to anything new, things will never progress. You have to always be a step ahead of the consumer.

Ferran Adria, award-winning chef, said that once your customer completely understands what you are doing, you are already behind the curve. It’s our professional duty as coffee specialists to expose consumers to new and exciting coffee flavors, even if at the risk of not everyone liking what you are trying to showcase.

As one of the few roastery’s in the country that can truthfully say you serve all specialty coffees, what is Espresso Lab’s criteria for choosing a new coffee to showcase?

Quality. We have never compromised on that, even when it’s sometimes to the detriment of our bank balance.

We also trying to go further, offering not only Single Estate coffees, which we have done since day one, but also offering single varietal Estate coffees. This basically means farmers are not blending varieties at farm level and offering us roasters the opportunity to showcase the unique flavors of terrior and varietal from a Single Estate.

We also try to purchase from the same estates year after year. This gives the farmers financial assurance, supporting them year after year, even if some years the coffee may not be as good as the previous year.

Buying coffee at times can be described as a roller coaster, you have to ride the highs and the lows, not only in quality, but also in price.

Why do you believe that it is important for the consumer to know the stories behind the beans you source?

In today’s commercial consumer society, people have no idea where most things come from, which is quite frightening. We are disconnected from what we eat and drink.

We believe the more you know about a coffee, where it has been grown, when it was harvested, which process it has been through, etc the more you will be able to enjoy it and converse about it, hence enhancing the image of specialty coffee.

The more we can teach our customer, the better they can make an educated decision when they buy coffee, weather it is from us or anywhere else. Knowledge is power afforded to the consumer, forcing those cloak and dagger coffee roasters to be more open with their offerings.

Espresso Lab must have one the lowest turnover of staff I’ve ever seen in a café, which I deeply respect and as a customer, really appreciate. We only get to visit once every six months but still receive a warm welcome by name and an exceptional coffee no matter who makes it. What do you look for when you take on new team members?

Having worked in hospitality for all our professional lives, the formula is easy, happy staff = happy customer. We ask a lot of our staff but we also give a lot back, so it is a relationship based on mutual respect and appreciation for each other.

We have a lot of respect for our staff and see them as one of our most valuable assets. Often in the coffee industry we are dazzled by the bling of a coffee machine, but to us, what impresses us is a blinging smile.

Our staff are the faces most customers’ meet when they come to the shop, so they are vital to our survival as a business, and we treat them as such. We often ask them for their input on decisions, which affect the day to day running of the shop.

We also try to always laugh and have fun at work. We take what we do very serious, but not ourselves. We make sure we laugh together every day.

When we first opened and in many cases still today, a barista was seen as a minimum wage job, “just” a guy or girl behind the espresso machine, which could not be further from the truth. Salaries in the coffee sector are far too suppressed, and we are trying our best to change this.

In any first world country it is a high skilled profession which people take pride in, and which many people choose as a career. We have tried to instill a pride with all our staff in their work, and treat them with the respect they deserve

Tell us about the SP9 competition experience and why you think this piece of equipment will compliment your brewing philosophy and make a difference in your establishment?

Wow, winning the Marco Beverages SP9 coffee brewer was one of the toughest challenges we ever undertook in our short history as a company. It was hard work, involving many a late night and early morning campaigning.

Actually, we had come across the Marco SP9 earlier this year when our friends Charles and Anne from Koppi in Sweden had one installed in their cafe. When we looked into the machine, and its performance, we knew it would be a great addition to our shop.

We feel that filter brewed coffee is one the best ways in tasting coffee, as it is the purest way. It is something we have served here for a long time, but as it is a time consuming process, and challenging one at that, it is something we were not able to offer our customers on Saturdays.

When Marco announced the competition to win an SP9, we knew it was a chance of a lifetime for our business. We submitted our essay on why we thought we should win it. When we were chosen as one of only five finalists worldwide we were ecstatic.

It was then that the hard work started. We connected with every single customer that came through our doors, as well as trying to come up with fun and inventive ideas to get people voting online. Together as a team, Vuyo, Tshebase, Lydia and Eva worked tirelessly to get people voting in the shop and to tell their friends and families.

From the start, we wanted our campaign to reflect both the amazing equipment we wanted to win as well as our personality.

The outpouring of support has really been overwhelming, not just from our customers, but many of our old friends from abroad who gave us a huge online support.

It’s been an amazing experience, and we are so grateful to Marco Beverage Systems for this opportunity in bringing this world-class coffee brewer to Africa for the first time.

The following are our suggested formulas when brewing coffee at home.

There is no exact science to brewing a good cup of coffee, but using filtered water, freshly ground coffee, weighing your coffee, using the correct amount of water and controlling the brew process almost guarantees a perfect cup.

More importantly, brewing coffee is a process which takes time, patience and a sense of purpose. Enjoy it.


+ Filtered water
+ Freshly ground coffee
+ 24 grams of coffee - medium grind
+ Filter paper, preferably Hario
+ V60 brewer
+ Spouted pitcher
+ Digital scale
+ Burr grinder

1. Insert the filter into the ceramic cone and pre wet the filter paper.
2. Bring approx. 400ml of water to the boil, preferably 90-95C.
3. Weigh the coffee, 24g - for approx. 2 cups. Pour into the filter.
4. Sit the ceramic cone over appropriate cup.
5. Pour approx. 50ml of water over the coffee grounds with the spouted pitcher and allow to bloom for 30-45 secs.
6. Pour the remaining water in a slow circular motion until a total of 400ml has been reached. The total brew time should be 2-3 minutes.
7. The coffee is now ready to serve - enjoy.

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