After 19 years of writing on this blog I have decided to move to a new, simpler, platform where I hope I can spend more of my time writing and publishing rather than tweaking and maintaining. The new site is still at toobusyto.org.uk, but a changed location: Coffee, Travel & Tech. If you subscribe via RSS then please add the new location to your feed reader.
I popped into my neighbourhood coffee roasters for an afternoon coffee and enjoyed watching it brew in this beautiful machine, along with a very tasty sweet treat.
With few opportunities for great adventures, 2021 has been a quiet year on this blog. However my camera did get a run out on Christmas Day, and so I thought I would post some food photography to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Here’s to more adventures in 2022.
Working from home and eating dinner with the little ones at 5pm means I am often foraging in the cupboards for an evening snack. I remembered reading sometime last year that cheese is one of the many culinary experiences you can have delivered to your doorstep and decided to break up the monotony of lockdown with an Introduction Box from The Cheese Collective.
The website ordering process was slick and efficient, and allowed me to state whether I want to exclude blue cheeses and goats’ cheese–handy if you are put off trying traditional selection boxes because of the risk that you will definitely not like a significant proportion of it. The Cheese Collective supply only British cheeses, although the supplied little tasting cards note to which well-known cheese it is similar. The cheeses I received hailed from Hampshire, Scotland, and Somerset—all fantastic classic cheeses from small producers. This is perhaps not the box to try if you are looking for something with more je ne sais quoi.
The spiders had been very busy spinning over night, and were enjoying a lazy Sunday morning in their webs. (Click for a higher resolution photo.)
In my review of the Blue Coffee Box I observed:
In addition to the quality of the coffee, important considerations include the ability to control the frequency of delivery since even a well-sealed bag will only keep coffee properly fresh for a few weeks. Another factor is how much choice is there over the style of coffee delivered? Does the service allow for some flexibility and choice around that?
To review these aspects of the service I signed up for a subscription. The first decision as whether I would like Light, Medium, or Dark roast, or there was an option to “surprise me” with each bag. Although I had sampled three bags of their coffee already, these had not been categorised in this way so I was unsure which I would prefer and plumped for the Medium option.
The next decision was frequency of delivery: fortnightly, monthly or every two months. Finally, I could choose to pay monthly, or pre-pay for 3, 6 or 12 months. Prepaying for 3 months saves 50p per bag, for 6 months it is £1 per bag. If you go for fortnightly deliveries then prepayment options are 8 and 16 weeks for a 50p and £1 discount accordingly. I placed my order on a Saturday, it was dispatched on the Tuesday and arrived two days later on Thursday. The coffee was again excellent.
The medium roast was exactly as you would expect a medium roast, rich but well-balanced and not over-powering but I remained undecided: am I a light roast or a medium roast subscriber? I decided that the only way to check was to change to a light roast for my next bag. I duly emailed the team at Blue Coffee Box, explained that I was still on the fence, and they were very happy to switch my subscription for my next bag. Their IT systems were not quite as obliging as it inadvertently generated a new order for me and charged my card again, but another email to them saw that swiftly corrected.
Once your subscription is live you can view it on their website and make some amendments, such as switching the pre-pay period, skip your next renewal (the date of which is clearly shown), cancel and add a new subscription. Cancellation seems to be the only way to change the frequency, having first cancelled the existing subscription, hence I had to email them to change from medium to light roast.
Blue Coffee Box offer a great subscription product which is simple and easy to use. The variety of coffee is supplemented by the different roasters used, so every delivery is going to feel like a mini-surprise present to yourself. The downside is that the coffee is only posted to you on a fixed schedule (2, 4 or 8 weeks) so if your coffee consumption does not fit one of those patterns then you will find yourself accumulating a surplus or running short and needing to “top up” from other sources.
The need for flexibility and low-stress stock management is something I think Pact Coffee have solved. I have been using them since 2013 and while their product started off as a weekly or monthly subscription service, their website has evolved to include precise scheduling and handy features like “choose my subscription frequency in days” (mine is 21), and buttons for “skip this delivery” and “ship today” (or “tomorrow” if it is after 1pm). Thus my routine is: realise while making coffee that I have only a few days supply remaining, pull up website on phone while waiting for it to brew, request coffee be posted that afternoon and it generally arrives within two days. Pact also requires you to choose your coffee from a rotating menu of around 6 or 7 they have in stock on any particular day—great if you like a particular coffee and want more of the same—but there is enough turnover that you can probably have something different every time if you prefer too.
A coffee subscription allows you to enjoy, with minimal effort, high quality freshly roasted coffees that you will never find for sale in your local supermarket. As with most subscription products, there are discounts available to tempt new customers so I recommend you try them both using the offers below and decide which style of subscription works best for you. Cheers!
This is a review of the Blue Coffee Box I received a few weeks ago. To be completely transparent, I was given a free review box by Blue Coffee Box, I had not heard of their subscription club until their offer popped into my inbox. They are also offering £5 off your first order using code TBTO5.
As I wrote about in my previous post, this is a well put-together package that exudes class and quality. As someone who enjoys the range of flavours and tastes that coffee offers, I really liked that there were three different varieties to drink. Each bag has a good resealing mechanism so it is easy to keep fresh in the bag once opened—a good thing when you get excited about having to compare and contrast three different bags of coffee for a review and decide to open all three on the same day! Each bag is 155g, a little bit smaller than a standard 227g supermarket bag, but with three in the box that adds up to about the same amount of coffee as two supermarket bags.
My first opportunity to sample the coffee was for a cup of mid-morning pick-me-up. Using the flavour notes I decided that the occasion called for something a little bit lively, so went with the Finca La Bastilla, which was described as “notes of apple, pear, citrus, caramel.” This produced a drink that was smooth and natural tasting, with a rounded mouth-feel and was a little bit more-ish. Subsequent tastings showed it to be a really good all-rounder that could be drunk black or with a drop of milk, perhaps a little middle-of-the road but there is definitely room for that in my cupboard.
The second coffee I tasted was Bosque Lya. The flavour notes of milk chocolate and praline suggested this would be a little darker than the Finca La Bastilla and indeed it was. The chocolate flavour definitely came through but without any bitterness. The description of “milk chocolate” was very apt and I found it to be a very agreeable mellow coffee: perfect for after-dinner, but highly enjoyable at any time of day.
The final bag was Aldea Capucas. I was not sure what to expect from flavour notes of golden syrup, caramel and lemon since they are not flavours I would normally associate with a coffee. However it was another delicious cup of coffee, mild and rich-bodied with subtle flavours, and surprisingly sweet—milky coffee without any milk!
After tasting all three, I am happy to report this box contained three different, truly excellent, high quality coffees. Combined with the luxury presentation I have no hesitation in recommending this box as a gift for someone who claims to be a coffee aficionado, they will not be disappointed. This would also be a great present for someone who has yet to discover the joys of gourmet coffee, or coffee subscriptions, and would appreciate an introduction.
Having established this is superb coffee that no one could be disappointed to receive, what about the subscription service itself? In addition to the quality of the coffee, important considerations include the ability to control the frequency of delivery since even a well-sealed bag will only keep coffee properly fresh for a few weeks. Another factor is how much choice is there over the style of coffee delivered? My three bags were all at the lighter, subtle, mellow and mild end of the roast spectrum which is serendipitously my preference, but I do know people who prefer a strong big mouth-feel dark roast so does the service allow for some flexibility and choice around that? These are important questions require a little more research so will be answered in a future post.
Since moving to suburbia, a Saturday morning run to Monmouth Coffee’s near-by roasting house to taste their current selection has required a lot more effort and travel. The best alternative I have found is a coffee subscription: I am unable to taste a selection of coffees before purchase but it does ensure I have a constant supply of fresh and delicious beans available at home.
The good news for me and my fellow suburban dwellers is that there are an increasing number of home delivery options available and the nice people at Blue Coffee Box have just sent me one of their signature boxes containing three 155g bags of beans to try. The box is beautifully presented with a card describing the farm where the coffee was grown, and a few words to describe the flavours you might notice.
My box contains three coffees, two roasted by the same boutique team, Gentlemen Baristas in East London, and another by a small two-person roaster in Yorkshire. The post was unable to get it through our standard-sized letterbox but he was happy to leave it in a safe place so there was no hassle receiving it. When I tested the parcel in the letterbox I could just about get it through, but it was a tight fit and required some wiggling—your mileage may vary, as they say.
A full review of the coffees will follow when I have had chance to fully enjoy them, but if any reader would like to try a box for themselves then the company have generously provided a £5 discount code for you—enter TBTO5 at checkout to claim.
Photographs from my trip to Wimbledon’s Centre Court on Day 12 of the Championships.
Play started an hour earlier than usual with the continuation of last night’s epic Djokovic versus Nadal semi-final. Suspended at 11pm with the score Djokovic leading 2 sets to 1, since the match had started with the roof closed it continued under the roof, despite the hot sunshine. The closed roof added to the intensity of the match, and while the air conditioning kept the temperature pleasant, it created a very dry atmosphere—I was glad the roof was open for the subsequent matches.
Nadal came out of the chair firing on all cylinders and raced to a 3-0 lead in the first set played today. It was a weird pattern but every set where I was away from my seat for the first 3 games featured a break of serve! In all but one case this was subsequently wiped out so I didn’t feel I had missed the crucial part of the set. Despite being broken back by Djokovic, Nadal conjured up another break and served out the set to take us to a decider. The crowd was ecstatic—never could they have imagined when they purchased their ticket for the Ladies Final that there would be an hors d’oeuvre of this quality.
The tennis in that final set was sublime. Big power shots that would normally be winners repeatedly returned, break points denied by ace after ace, and sliced backhands sliding low over the net—a masterclass in shot making and retrieving from both players. After the score passed six games-all the tension ratcheted up to 11. After two hours of sitting the body starts to yearn to stretch, but the crowd remained packed, no one wanting to leave and potentially miss the decisive game. Nadal went 15-40 down, but recovered. Then it was Djokovic’s turn to overturn break points. But you felt Djokovic had the upper hand serving first and Nadal might just be running out of steam quicker than his opponent. And then suddenly it was 0-40 to Djokovic, three match points, and a forehand into the net from Nadal brought this exquisite contest to a conclusion after five hours and fourteen minutes on court.
Serena Williams versus Angelique Kerber promised to be a very different affair. An early break of Serena’s serve was wiped out to love in the fourth game. But Serena never looked comfortable on court—measured and almost a little weary between points—in contrast to her opponent who chased every ball with a spritely energy that produced winners off well placed balls that would ordinarily been good enough to force an error. When Serena tried counteract that by upping the aggression of her shots, she pushed the ball long and Kerber’s decisive steady play made her a deserving champion.
The Men’s Doubles offered an enjoyable dessert to the day. Bryan and Sock clinching the first and third sets with a single break, and their opponents Klaasen and Venus being worthy winners of a tight second set tie break. The fourth set looked to be heading to another tie break, Bryan saving break point at 5-6 with a big serve, but then on the next break point a careless foot fault (his second of the game) lost them the set! It was 9pm so the roof was closed and we were presented another fifth set shoot out under the lights.
The fifth set followed the pattern of the previous ones with few chances for either side—this was another masterclass display of high quality doubles tennis from two evenly matched teams. Balls rifled low and at the body of the net player returned by swift and dexterous reflexes. And then, in the 11th game, at 30-30 on their serve, the fine balance of play dipped slightly against Venus and Klaasen to give the tiniest of openings for their opponents to break serve, which they took. Now, Mike Bryan—villain of the 12th game in the previous set—was presented the chance to serve for the Championship. There was no repeat of the self-inflicted errors, and the title was won!
Some photographs from a hot August day at RHS Wisley.
Fortune smiled on me in the tennis club ballot this year and despite life being quite busy around the beginning of July, I was able to spend a very enjoyable day at The All-England Club watching some tremendous tennis.
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Since the Autumn I have been taking more photographs of people than places. Through a Facebook advert I had seen that 36exp run bite-size evening workshops and I signed up for one on off-camera flash since the dark evenings had also resulted in me using my flashgun quite extensively.
The course was really fun and also my first experience of shooting with a professional model. This was quite intimidating at first, but Julie was very professional and it was a lot less stressful than when trying to get the perfect photo that family demand, but have little patience to achieve!
The first three photographs were all shot with a single light on to the camera’s right. I do not remember if the light was modified with a soft box or umbrella. One immediate thing I observed was that light stands need to be very high—we are used to seeing light shine down from a very high angle from both the sun and ceiling lights, so to achieve a natural look the light needs to be positioned above the model and angled down.
This shot introduced a second light onto the back of the model’s head to highlight her hair. I really like the effect of the hair light, but I am not sure it works well in this context.
These last two used a single light on the model and a second light to illuminate the background. While editing this collection I realised that filters and effects make a lot more sense for photographs where the subject is the main focus. With my travel photography I am aiming to capture the atmosphere I experienced, whereas here the entire scene is constructed at the direction of the photographer, and so it is very logical to continue the creative process into the darkroom.