January 11, 2013 by Beans Ahoy
So I made it to Harris + Hoole Coffee. In the press recently for their tie up with Tesco I was interested in seeing what they had to offer by way of quality coffee. This company cannot really be classed as a ‘chain’ yet. With 10 outlets they are rather hard to come by but I would say that it is probably worth the trip. As chains go, they are very good, but that is not exactly saying much. Comparing any coffee to the commercially available coffee in Britain is setting the bar very low.
I will start with the bad about Harris + Hoole. Ambiance is decent, it’s just a little odd. I like the retro style with the old tiles, and classic eames-esk style school chairs, but the whole package just seems a little unfinished. Not being a designer though, it’s tough to put my finger on what it is. I love the cups though. They are really very cool.
The other thing I don’t like is the way the coffee is made. There is no doubt they take care when measuring amounts and ensuring the right temperatures but the final result is not that good. Cappuccinos are far too milky. Flat whites are no such thing. They are both Lattes with a splodge of foam on top. A cappuccino should be a 1/3 espresso, a 1/3 milk, a 1/3 foam. It’s very important to get this right because it can let the coffee down. So Harris+Hoole, if you are listening, please ensure your staff are trained to make the beverages within very fine limits, and please teach them the difference between a flat white and cappuccino. Onwards! The espresso…
The coffee itself is pretty decent. They don’t over roast the bean, there is minimal oil visible on the bean which is a refreshing change from drenched charcoal in most high street stores. What is nice is that they have taken to telling you where the coffee comes from. Little details like this will help to educate people about coffee.
As for the taste. I was shocked when I first tasted their espresso. Having expected the burnt taste of Starbucks and Costa I was pleasantly surprised by the espresso. I had the Finca Montanita Guatemala, which I must admit I have never heard of. However, I have heard of and tasted lots of Guatemalan coffee which is often very good. This espresso is by no means a single estate coffee though. The taste simply lacks complexity and single estate characteristics. That’s not to say it’s bad. The taste of the espresso may come as a bit of a surprise to many coffee drinkers at first as it shows people that espresso should taste of the bean, not the roast.
Espresso is not a roast. Espresso is not a bean. It is the method of preparation which means that you can vary the taste of espresso depending on the bean, and this really is the better of the commercially available espressos. In many ways it reminds me of some of the Brazilian Bourbons of the last couple of years but with a more profound mouth feel, and a lot more dryness. Overall a good coffee and a thousand times better than what is shoved at us in the big chains.
It’s not specialty coffee though. I know they advertise it as such but I don’t think H+H needs to. There is a lack of coffee quality that precludes it from the ‘specialty’ label (For definition of specialty coffee see: https://beansahoy.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/what-is-specialty-coffee/) However, I don’t think this is important. I think this place is very good, and so will most people. The coffee is no doubt better than other chains, and by quite some margin. Rather than specialty coffee, it is what commercial coffee should be, and it’s nice to see someone championing that cause. There are no silly claims of ‘Italian Roast’ (which is rubbish), or slightly tacky pictures of some South American coffee crop. It is more about the coffee than the brand and that is good news.
From a business perspective I like that Tesco’s owns a part of this company. What it means is that they will hopefully have access to the funding required to expand and compete with the main high street brands. I sincerely hope H+H does two things. Firstly, gets that funding to expand because they have a good product. Secondly, don’t depart from their ethos of it being about the coffee rather than the brand. There are certainly a few tweaks to be made, but I believe that if played right, this will be a good place for coffee in the years to come.
Finca Montanita Guatemala – Sweet, chocolate aroma with almonds and a hint of lightly smoked wood and marzipan. VERY dry on the tongue and roof of mouth. Zesty lemon, but quickly mellows and becomes earthier. However, when cooler it becomes quite acrid and slightly unpleasant with a tar taste. 6.9/10.0