How Mean Is Your Bean?

Grumpy Mule Coffee

What do Lloyd’s of London, the New York Stock Exchange, The Boston Tea Party, a weasel, and an Ethiopian goatherd have in common?

Coffee. The best drink of the day (well, until the sun’s over the yardarm, and then it’s a different matter). A cup of the fresh stuff helps kick start your day. It smells good, makes you feel perky, washes your brain cells, and comes in all sorts of varieties, flavours, brews and packaging to fit your mood or the time of day. The best bit of all is? It’s not illegal.

Walk into any supermarket, food hall, or deli, and you’ll find row upon row of different types of coffee ranging from instant to Fair Trade organic, with beans originating from a variety of regions around the world. Needless to say it can be bewildering to know which to choose. Trial and error was my approach, but after a speciality food show visit, a geography lesson, and a tasting session, I was won over by Grumpy Mule.

Grumpy Mule is a family-owned business, and MD Ian Balmforth and product manager Damian Blackburn research and source the best coffees around the world. Their coffee blends are regular winners of the Great Taste Awards, which works for me because it cuts out some of the grunt work when it comes to deciding which type of bean to buy. Their off-the-shelf/online coffee list (which is extensive) includes Guatemala Pocola, Panama Esmeralda, Rwanda Musasa, Organic Sumatra, and my favourite - Tanzania Footprint - an interesting alternative to Jamaican Blue Mountain. Each coffee has its own delightful back-story. I’m working my way through their coffees and I’m on their waiting list for their soon-to-be-launched Bolivian blend - Bolivia being a one-time small player in the speciality coffee market due to inconsistent quality and unpredictable politics.

And though I'm always up for a new experience, I have yet to try a cup of coffee made from the beans that a cat/mongoose/weasel-like creature has pooped out of its rear end. I’ll stick with the regular water-processed varieties, thanks. And speaking of which: coffee gadgetry. There are all sorts available, but the one I like the most is the one that comes with George Clooney. Forget the Gold Blend Man (which incidentally was one of the most successful British advertising campaigns of the 1980s), I’ll take George and his pods any day. I was so tempted to buy a Nespresso last week, quite possibly due to the fact that I’d been brainwashed by the amount of times I’d viewed the Nespresso ads on YouTube.

I’ve tried percolated, one-cup drip, automatic drip, vending machine, bags, instant and liquid, and have settled on the French Press delivery system with a decent bean. I used to grind my own, but got lazy and now buy ready-ground, which I keep in the freezer. Flavoured coffee got a quick visit a few years ago, with hazelnut and vanilla being the most palatable (infused in the bean, not by adding syrup), but as I’m turning into a coffee aficionado, I now like to trawl the gourmet and speciality offerings available and buy it ‘au naturel’.

Without a doubt, coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, and its Golden Age isn’t over yet. Coffee is everywhere. People sing about it, and events are organised around it. Macmillan Cancer Support hold The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning every September, which gets a fabulous turn out raising millions of pounds for those affected by cancer.

As for the original question, coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world (after oil), and Lloyds of London and the New York Stock Exchange began life as coffee houses. The Boston Tea Party was planned in one, and if the story’s true, it’s all thanks to that Ninth Century Ethiopian goatherd and his frisky goats.

And if anyone out there wants to try the exotic Kopi Luwak coffee (the 'cat-weasel' coffee), Sea Island Coffee will sort you out.