So, how’s your week been? The tourism industry traditionally slows down this time of year, in the best of times. Pre-2021 season, there’s still skiing and winter sun holidays to consider, if you’re in the market after the economic year we’ve been having. As a freelancer, I’m not that fortunate. Pre-pandemic I had been intending to escape somewhere warm this winter to work remotely. Consequently, I’m sitting at my laptop in the rapidly cooling UK temperatures, wondering what the heck to write about in my journal.
This week was a bit hit and miss. Highlights included a live visit to sample the wonders of Costa Rica and Guatemala, and a fascinating coffee tasting workshop in Colombia, courtesy Centro America, ProColombia and Zoom.
World Food Day
Following on from British Food Fortnight (which ended on 4 October) will be World Food Day (16 October) so I make no excuses for my current obsession with food, and drink. As if I needed an excuse. The food we eat has, though, become mainstream since the pandemic. It’s no longer a question of what we eat but the quality of our food that is coming under scrutiny, and the subsequent impact on our health and wellbeing.
When the PR company said they were ‘sending me some coffee’ I imagined a bag of coffee in the post from London. A large box dispatched from the San Alberto Estate in Colombia, a family-run coffee farm in the mountain growing regions, however, contained all the necessary ingredients and tools for a professional two-hour tasting session.
Juan Pable Villota is a third generation coffee producer inspired by the great wines of France. Juan took us step by step through the growing, harvesting and processing stages at the San Alberto Estate, emphasising the similarities between tasting coffee and wine. I remember having a similar conversation about chocolate with Simon Pattison, co-founder of Montezuma’s Chocolate, at a wine and chocolate pairing session a few years back. It’s logical that terroir is applicable not only to wine but is a primary element in other specialist produce, including coffee, honey, and olive oil.
We explored the sensorial experience, the basic flavours of sweet, bitter, sour and salty, by sampling little packets of dried fruits. Moving on to aromas, earthy, herbal, spicy etc, there were some differing results. Smell and flavour are entirely individual. Around 90% of what we taste is actually smell. At a wine workshop last year with Amelia Singer, the group found that while one red wine smelt musty to some, with the tannins producing a not entirely pleasant dry mouth, others rated it 100% on all points.
Traditionally, the best Colombian coffee beans have been exported as green beans to roasteries worldwide. There’s actually a law against exporting second grade beans, which instead have been used to make coffee in Colombia. Juan is changing this practice, along with other coffee farms, aiming to export their own roasted beans, in part to maintain control over the final product. It also means that some of the good stuff is retained to be enjoyed in Columbia.
I found it particuarly interesting when Juan explained that large coffee companies often use a mix of grades of beans, roasted to a very high degree to disguise the poor flavour of the lower quality. This might explain why I find the taste of coffee at one UK high street chain so bitter. I’ve always thought it was because the temperature of the water was too hot, and that this scalded the beans. An independent UK roaster I interviewed a while ago put me right on this assumption. Having undergone extremely high temperatures in the bean roaster, the temperature of the hot water used does not impair the ground coffee.
San Alberto Award-winning coffee starts at $15,00 for 340g. www.cafesanalberto.com
The Liverpool Literary Festival went virtual this year. Tickets were free and I joined two Zoom sessions. Adele Parks writes a book every year, that’s a staggering 20 books over a 20 year writing career. The book for publication in 2021 has already been written and Parks is planning 2022. Her books are bestsellers and highly readable, I know as I’ve read quite a few. BBC Radio Presenter, Ngunan Adamu was in conversation with Adele Parks. The conversation was lively and highly entertaining.
Parks talked about a period of prolonged grief years ago following a period of prolonged loss, when she sought grief counselling. The advice she took away, that reasonates in today’s pandemic, was to “Find something small that you’re in control of to increase your happiness”.
As a child Parks read an astonishing four books a day. When she began writing in earnest she wrote for three hours, five days a week (five hours at the weekend). Parks believes in making her own luck. Looking for her first publisher, she bought a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, found a likely publisher and left a third of her manuscript at his office. There was no synopsis just a cheeky ‘ten word pitch’ succinctly outlining the highlights of the plot. Subsequently, the publisher left a message on her voice mail (this was way back she points out) saying he’d like to meet. The rest is history or rather her-story.
“Read, read, read and write, write, write”. Adele Parks top tips for budding writers.Tweet
Flesh and blood
Stephen McGann plays a hard-working GP in London’s impoverished East End during the early years of the NHS, in the successful BBC medical drama Call the Midwife. McGann is married to the series’ screenwriter, Heidi Thomas. The festival promo billed the youngest of the McGann acting brothers as a ‘passionate communicator’ and this was certainly the case (see my photos below). In From public stage to private page: putting health into words he talked to Louise Kenny, Obstetrician and Executive Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University, about his book Flesh and Blood My Family in Seven Maladies (2017). Part memoir and part medical geneaology it follows the McGann family history alongside the social history of the late 19th and early 20th century.
“Individualism is a privilege”. Stephen McGann.Tweet
Like many Irish families the McGanns relocated to Liverpool during The Great (Potato) Famine (1845 to 1849). In the late 1800s his family ‘subsisted’ he says, “from the 1920s we thrived” mainly due to societal changes, including the introduction of the NHS and the clearing of the city slum areas. McGann believes that similar societal changes are needed to overcome the current pandemic.
In case you’re wondering, McGann’s favourite episode of Call the Midwife is Series 5, Episode One, (he’s very precise on this) involving the Thalidomide tragedy.
Catch up and watch all the festival records on Liverpool University’s Facebook page.
In my inbox
I’m starting to receive suggestions for Christmas gifts, foods and places to stay, if you feel so inclined. With many people losing their jobs and the pandemic still raging, it will be an subdued festive season. On the other hand the hospitality industry is struggling to survive too. Here’s a few suggestions for Afternoon Tea in London if you’re thinking of treating yourself or family members.
The Montague on the Gardens’ is a pretty Georgian Townhouse situated off Russell Square in Bloomsbury. Festive Afternoon Tea is £50 per person, with the choice of two sittings each day at either 12 noon or 2.30pm (16 November to 31 December). Their Ski Lodge will also be reopening in the garden, with wood deck complete with pine trees, falling snow, reindeer, snowmen, ski-racks, piste maps, and the requisite strings of fairy lights. www.montaguehotel.com/food-and-drink/afternoon-tea
The Milestone Hotel is situated opposite Kensington Palace and Gardens and close to the Royal Albert Hall. From £55 per person for The Traditional Festive Afternoon Tea and £65 for Champagne Afternoon Tea (24 November to 4 January, daily 1pm to 5pm). www.milestonehotel.com/food-and-drink/afternoon-tea
That’s all for this week. Let me know what you’re up to and how you’re coping in the comments box. Stay well and safe wherever you are in the world.
As always please check the Foreign travel advice web site for the latest on international travel guidelines.
Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted.