A caffeinated week….

I like coffee. I do. But I am a bit fussy about it. Not for me the spoonful of instant. Nope. I have a little Italian Moka pot, not quite as shiny as it once was, but capable of making me the perfect morning coffee. I use Guatemalan FairTrade coffee, a rich sweet but strong bean that I was introduced to in a restaurant in Belgium many moons ago and has remained my go to coffee bean ever since. I like coffee the Italian way, not a bucket of milk but a short, satisfying hit of coffee topped with foamy milk and NO chocolate sprinkles or other flavours.

picture of a flat white coffee

Flat white, artisan style by Filter and Fox, Liverpool

I was contacted by Havas PR (working on behalf of Greggs) to ask if I would sample and compare a range of coffees available from various high street brands. To make things fair, I was asked to compare the same drink in each establishment and mark each one on the following: Taste, Value, Fresh, Smell and Aesthetic. I was not paid for this but provided with gift vouchers to use in each establishment.

Obviously this is a personal view and what I find palatable others may not but I was surprised at the results. When I order coffee “out” I usually choose a flat white or an espresso. For this test I went with the flat white.

Starbucks – nice aroma but very creamy. Slight bitter aftertaste, not full bodied. Very hot. Smaller cup that had to be doubled due to not fitting the cardboard sleeve. Most expensive drink.

Costa – good aroma, creamy and rounded taste. My usual gripe is that it’s too big a serving and I rarely finish it. (To declare an interest, this is where I usually buy a coffee if I’m not near the preferred option of an independent coffee place). Not the prettiest of cups but most practical in terms of its corrugated wall preventing scalded hands.

Pret a Manger – good aroma but bitter coffee, very acidic. Didn’t finish it. Almost too hot to drink, was the milk burnt? Needed to sit a little before serving I suspect. Simple cup, but as per Starbucks, so hot it was hard to hold.

Greggs – good aroma. Not as silky as some I’ve had but perfectly pleasant cup of coffee. Coffee used was quite mellow, didn’t leave a harsh aftertaste. Not sure I’d class it as a flat white, more of a coffee with hot milk but best value of the lot in terms of cost and taste comparisons. Simple cup – why not make more of the 100% FairTrade? I almost missed that and it wasn’t highlighted in the shop like it is in Pret. Least expensive drink but also only one that wasn’t made from scratch i.e. barista style.
Caffe Nero* – harsh coffee, left bitter aftertaste. Seemed thin, not rounded, no aroma, didn’t finish it. Distinctive blue cup – like Costa – immediately obvious which brand you have chosen.

*I went to Caffe Nero last and discovered that they don’t serve a flat white. So I had a cappuccino sans chocolate as the closest I could manage.

Taste  Value  Fresh  Smell  Aesthetic  Total
Starbucks                                     3         3        4         3       3             16
Costa                                           4         3        4         4        2             17
Pret a Manger                              2         1         3        4        2             12
Greggs                                         4         4        3         3        2             16
Caffe Nero                                   1          1        3         3        3             11

So in conclusion, following the marks, Costa came out top, just, but the least and most expensive coffees from Greggs and Starbucks tied. As already stated, Costa is the brand I am most familiar with, but I was surprised by how much I disliked the Pret a Manger and Caffe Nero coffees, clearly I’m not a fan of the coffee beans that they use! I am still going to purchase my flat white from an artisan coffee place (no, I have no beard, nor tattoos), as I like to support local micro businesses but if that option isn’t available, I may revisit Greggs again for a coffee.

picture of coffee cards

Coffee cards supplied by Havas PR

Marmalade Month

paper bag of seville oranges

Seville Oranges from Riverford Organics

January in Britain. Grey skies. Freezing temperatures. No money post Christmas spending. 5 weeks til payday. So far, so grim. But wait, there’s an orange glow on the horizon, bringing colour and scent to our kitchens. Yes, January is also the time of the glorious but short Seville orange season. Now is the time to get out your biggest pan and indulge in a spot of marmalade making.

Beloved by Paddington Bear, dreamt about by British expats and eaten from John O Groat’s to Land’s End, marmalade is a wonderful addition to your morning toast. Of course, it’s as British as curry, which is to say, we nicked it from somewhere else and made it ours. In this case, the Portuguese  delicacy “marmelada” travelled to England via France in the 16th century,  referring to a fruit paste made with  quinces, sugar and boiled until thickened. No-one is quite sure when ‘marmalade’ began to refer to a citrus fruit based confection but a recipe for a “Marmelet of Oranges” is found in the household book of Madam Eliza Cholmondeley circa 1677.  (Source: A Comprehensive History of Marmalade from the World Marmalade Awards)

For me, the joy of marmalade making is the endless permutations on a theme. Each year I make a “standard” batch and then make a further two batches, experimenting with other flavours, different sugars and thickness of peel. Marmalade happily sits with ginger, whisky, Grand Marnier, rum, treacle, and even chilli. This year I am playing with ginger, using ginger wine and chunks of stem ginger to add a little warmth to my basic marmalade recipe.

Marmalade is not just for toast, use it to glaze a ham, add to a bread and butter pudding for an extra citrus kick, bake a marmalade cake or, a particular favourite, make a marmalade martini….

I got my Sevilles from Ave Maria Farm www.huertaavemaria.com via Riverford Organics www.riverford.co.uk but I’ve also now seen them in some of the bigger supermarkets.

Simple Seville Orange Marmalade:

1.5 kilos Seville oranges, washed.

2.2 litres (4 pints) water

2.5 kilos sugar

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Put the oranges in a large saucepan and add the water. Simmer gently for 2 – 3 hours until the peel is very soft.

Remove the fruit, but DON’T throw the water away.

Let fruit cool til you can handle comfortably.

Cut the fruit in half and scoop the pips into a small saucepan, add 300ml of water and bring this to a simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a sieve into the reserved water from earlier. Squeeze as much liquid from the sieve as you can.

Chopped peel

Chopped peel

Meantime chop the peel to suit – thick or thin!

Put this fruit back into the large pan with the water and sugar. Stir well over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved.

Turn the heat up and bring to a fast boil for 10 minutes, then pull off the heat and test for a set – either: dip a clean wooden spoon into the pan, remove it and holding above the pan, twirl the spoon to cool it then let the marmalade ‘fall’ off the spoon. If the drops run together and form flakes that hang onto the edge of the spoon, a set has been reached; or:

The "wrinkle"

The “wrinkle”

chill a saucer in the fridge, put a teaspoon of marmalade on the cold saucer and let it cool for 1 minute. Push the surface and if it ‘wrinkle’, it has reached setting point.

If the marmalade hasn’t yet set, put back on the heat and cook for another 5 minutes and try the set again. Repeat as necessary but do make sure you take the pan off the heat each time you test the set or you’ll end up with toffee!

Let it sit a little, remove any “scum” (or froth really), by adding a small pat of butter and stirring to disperse the air bubbles. Letting it sit for 5 minutes or so before potting it also helps the peel to suspend in the jelly rather than sinking to the bottom.

Ladle into sterilized jars (fill jars with just boiled water, rinse out and leave upside to dry in a warm oven), and seal. Leave to cool before labeling.

This recipes makes about 9  x 340g jars or 18 190g jars.

Jars of marmalade cooling

               Jars of marmalade cooling


Grab Your Spoon’s Marmalade Martini

Well, and why not?!

2 shots marmalade vodka (Chase Vodka www.chasedistillery.co.uk make one, but you can use plain vodka or gin if that’s what you have!)

1 shot Cointreau or Triple sec

juice from 1 tangerine or half an orange

1 dessertspoon of Seville marmalade

2 tablespoons of double cream

Mix or shake in a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Strain into a glass and grate orange zest over the top.