The Perils of Passion

Blackwood Baristi, in case you didn’t know, is two people: Glen Surtees and Glenn Harpur. Meet the former.

I’m writing this post for two reasons: firstly, I had a conversation the other day and I had one of those weird dissociative experiences, you know, the kind where you actually listen to what you’re busy saying from an outside observer’s perspective and think: Do I really sound like that? And no, I’m not currently on strong medication!

The second reason is that the topic of said conversation fits in neatly with Glenn’s recent article on how he got involved in coffee in the first place.

So, without further ado, here’s what happened:

Someone mentioned coffee at a Saturday afternoon braai. The host, always the networker, pointed the person in my direction. I launched into my usual diatribe with passion. As it turned out, the other person knew very little about coffee and was mildly interested at best.

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t one of those conversations where I was still going strong after 30 minutes and showing no sign of stopping, no – it was short enough.  It was, however, during this conversation that I went into a sort of ‘autopilot’ and found myself listening to myself. I couldn’t help but think: What’s happening to me? Please don’t let me become one of those people who starts every single freaking conversation with the words, “I’m not a racist but…”. What I did wrong, I believe, was to engage the person at a level on which they couldn’t relate.  Again, this was subtle but nevertheless a problem.

I see this happen a lot. We tend to be passionate about coffee and we fail to understand how anyone could not love coffee like we do.

When you are passionate, you speak about that which you are passionate about. All well and good if your speech is of a frequency and level that the average Joe can relate to. But the trouble seems to start when we get it wrong.

All of us know what attracted us to coffee and coffee culture. We also know that we baristas are a strange breed. We obsess about things – tiny, seemingly inconsequential things which we KNOW make all the difference in the world.  But to get the average man in the street to buy into that or even mildly care is a different kettle of fish altogether.

We all want people to learn more about coffee, we want people to know the difference between what’s good and the dirty dish water that’s still passed off as coffee in some establishments around town. We want people to CARE! This is good. It’s logical because if the general public becomes more discerning in their coffee drinking, the standard is raised and you don’t have to fight your way through that cup of liquified burnt toast with something that was once milk but now looks more like a scalding hot thought bubble clinging to the last precious seconds of life floating insipidly on top. 

So yes! Let’s talk about coffee! Let’s tell people that there’s something much, much better out there than commercial freeze-dried chicory extract. Let’s tell the poor misled soul who thinks that vacuum-packed commercial brands from Italy are the be-all-and-end-all that we have freshly roasted, top quality coffee on our doorstep. Let’s guide those who assail you with the words, “Bru! You HAVE to try XXXX [insert name of poor quality coffee here]. It’s so good!”

But let’s face facts There are some people (in fact most people) who will sip the best specialty coffee money can buy and then go home and have a cup of instant later on without the slightest qualms.  In short, they like coffee. And you know what? I’m actually OK with that. I’ve realised that we are never really going to convince these people to care with our facts and our ‘fanciful’ descriptions of the peaches and cream flavour notes we can taste in that fresh batch of Costa Rica we have just cupped. Rather, those things tend to alienate them even more and, consequently, we get painted as some sort of obsessive lunatic fringe.

People HAVE to make the decision to care for themselves. Think about it: no-one has been argued into loving coffee. Coffee held a certain appeal for some and none at all for others.

If people put sugar in a coffee I’ve just made (out of habit) I don’t scream internally anymore. I KNOW that I’ve made them the best cup of coffee that I could possibly give them. I’ve done my job and I’ve done it well. I’m content with that.

Will I continue to talk about coffee, to educate people about the joys of this amazing drink and the culture surrounding it? Sure. But I will certainly be more tactful and understanding in the way that I approach the subject and try to sound less like a stuck record whilst doing it.


Glen Surtees

Peaches and cream? Dark chocolate and caramel? Hopefully not burnt toast…


Dear Mr Armani, Sorry We’ve Kept You Waiting

We know the fashion world has been on tenterhooks waiting for this and, believe us, we’ve only delayed so as to ease congestion around the various international fashion weeks.

So without further ado, we present a small selection of photos from the first ever Blackwood Baristi marketing shoot. The shoot was inspired by hit television show Mad Men and took place, with the very kind permission of Kyle and the team, at Colombo Fine Beverage Company’s super-stylish city-loft café/training centre (hit them up for a cappuccino and free wireless internet). We’re really stoked with the results and extend enormous thanks to Warren Goldswain (Google him) and team for sharing their time and creative flair.

Please let us know what you think.

Hmmm, I suppose I will have another one…

Love  the way that the lever machine compliments the aesthetic we had in mind.

Surtees on the shots.

From bean to cup.


Weighing In…Finally…

It’s been a long time since we blogged.


But, rest assured¸ we haven’t wasted the last two months. On the contrary, we’ve been experimenting, strategising and…modelling.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen – modelling.

But more on that next time.

Today we’re posting on something we should have put up ages ago – a few thoughts on, and a bump in the direction of weighing espresso and brewed coffee.

This is certainly not our idea, but it’s one that’s garnered much attention of late, and not only in the world of espresso – brewed coffee, in all its forms, from plunger to siphon to the myriad interpretations of drip-brewing have recently all been subjected to the tyranny of the scale and the evidence suggests that the world is tastier for it.

Espresso has long been considered a frustratingly complex mix of science and art, and it seems that each year a different part of the shot-pulling process is picked apart, prodded, discussed and reassembled in a better way. Coffee particle size, tamping technique, tamp shape, portafilter size, brew temperature and extraction time have all been brought under the scalpel in the quest for zero defect (apologies to Panasonic), but it’s been really encouraging to see the same level of precision being applied to cheaper and more home-friendly ways of making coffee.

Anyway, seeing as so much has already been written on this, and considering the fact that we’re still coming to grips with it ourselves, we thought we’d point you in the direction of two good articles on the topic. So, for your reading pleasure:



An afternoon well spent.

Night Market at the Roastery


As our friend Two Slice said, “Durban, night-time, Gale Street, who would have thought?” Indeed. But last Thursday night at the Colombo factory in Gale Street, Durban made us proud.

Darryl Hoffman of Yossi’s fame, together with the boys from Colombo and all the people who sold their delectable goods put on a night to remember and the Blackwood Baristi were delighted to be a part of it (especially considering that we got to play on the stunning new Victoria Arduino espresso machines that pulled shots and steamed milk for hours on end).

Colombo’s training centre/roastery, on the top floor of their factory, was converted into the coolest flea market in Durbantown. Picture this: a jazz band, hundreds of people, three two-group espresso machines, a bar, tables, chairs, stacks of hay, ciabatta, curry, wine, biltong, crazily tasty cashew nut honey-brittle and the like all mixed up and milling about amidst big coffee roasting machines and the general industrial-chic of harbour-front Durban on a Spring evening!

 Kudos to all involved – Durban wants more!

 Enjoy the pictures…


Well done, Durban.


We were only too happy to help the Colombo boys test their new machines...

Isn't she lovely?


Ah, the candlelit ambience of Gale Street...

Is there anything cooler than people playing jazz, in suits, surrounded by coffee machinery?

And, if your name is…

christyingermany, zanemattisson, cornercafelovesyou, amyh or 207517018@ukzn then you begin your Voyage right now!

Well done to the above people (even if you do feel like you’re “just a number”), and thanks for subscribing – hopefully we can become a pleasant distraction at work (even if it is in Germany, Christy), university (Mr/Mrs/Ms 207517018) or wherever else you have an inbox.

By the way, Judd, it was very clever of you to hide your real identity behind your swanky blog-name, but in the end it was your fetching profile picture that gave you away. We debated not giving you any coffee due to your refusal of our bribe in your much-celebrated free-coffee-for-life contest, but decided that you could be useful to us in the future, so your coffee, like everyone else’s, will be in the mail. 

We’ll be in touch…


Our First Giveaway!

We want to be a part of your world + we want you to drink good coffee = first five people, from now, to subscribe to this blog each get 250g of Jas B Richardson’s Voyage coffee beans from Colombo Fine Beverage Company!

“But Blackwood, I don’t own a grinder…” – never fear, Kyle from Colombo has offered to personally grind beans for those of you stuck in this precarious position. Should you wish to take Kyle up on his offer simply leave a comment to that effect at the end of this post and we’ll make the arrangements.

Visit the Colombo blog to read the story behind this handsome, Loerie Award nominated packaging.




Well, hello there…

And thank you very much if you’ve already subscribed to our blog or left a comment on it – your support is much appreciated.

Ever since we started this blog about three days ago, we’ve been thinking a lot about the type of blog we’d like it to be. What it comes down to, really, is that we want this to be the type of blog that we ourselves would like to visit on a regular basis.

And the types of blogs we like to visit are blogs that are regularly updated.

We know that updating regularly is something at which many bloggers fail, but it’s something we’ll try to do.

Whether it’s a short update on what’s happening in the business, a link to an interesting website or blog, tips for home- and café-based baristas or simply a picture we like, we’ll try to keep it interesting, useful and regular like an All Bran eater.

So, to start with, here are links to a few of our favourite coffee-related blogs and websites:


2007 World Barista Champion James Hoffman’s intelligent, accessible and well-formed perspectives on roasting, retail and coffee in general.

Cape Town aesthetes and coffee-devotees who speak their minds and run one of the most strikingly minimalistic coffee shops around.


Friendly Irishman and 2010 World Barista Championship Semifinalist Colin wants nothing more than for you to enjoy coffee in all its forms.


The good ol’ boys at Colombo will try their hand at anything: roasting, competing in and running barista competitions, building training centres with their own bare hands and blogging…and they do it all so well.


The inimitable Juddy-Poo and Two-Slice hit us up with their caffeined-out, hyperbolic and downright hilarious takes on everything from male hairdressers to espresso to saving the dolphins. They give away lots of stuff too.


The name says it all – everything you need to know about the art, frustrations and science of pulling jaw-dropping shots in your kitchen-café.


Basically, Facebook for baristas – you’ll be surprised how willing people are to help with any and every problem you could face on this crema-soaked journey of liquid delight.

Well, we’ve given you enough to keep you reading and experimenting for a while – just don’t forget to come back and read our blog too!