I have to admit I was tickled pink when I saw an email saying 'Congratulations! You have won a Toby's Estate Book and Bean Pack'. I had simply answered the 'Tell us where you enjoy Toby's Estate coffee' or words to that effect, with the honest response that I love to have my Toby's Estate double-shot macchiato at my sunny kitchen table using freshly ground beans that have been recently roasted and delivered right to my door.
Peter and I love our Toby's Estate subscription. It's an indulgence of sorts, but when we look at the cost of driving across Canberra to buy Toby's Estate beans versus having freshly roasted beans delivered free of charge, we can easily justify it and the cost is relatively even. One 250g pack arrives each fortnight and we always look forward to opening the bag and discovering each new variety, together with reading the handy tasting notes. Our favourites have included Kenya Tembo AA espresso roast, Sulawesi Toraja A, and Sumatra Blue Batak (which we agreed was nice, but had a weird taste on the first mouthful). We've become quite the coffee connoisseurs, thanks to Toby Smith, who has travelled the world trying and buying coffee to bring back to Australia.
The founder and director of Toby's Estate has spent more than a decade in search of the world's best coffee and he now spills the beans (great pun, Toby!) in Coffee Trails, a beautiful publication that is quite aptly suited to being described as a 'coffee table book'.
In the foreword to Coffee Trails, friend Matthew Evans describes Toby as an 'extraordinarily talented man ... who has pursued his dream of visiting all the great coffee growing destinations.' He is, and has, and the book is an interesting read. "I thought I knew about coffee,' Toby writes in the introduction. 'My mother had a cafe where we made the classic Mount Fuji cappuccino, you know the sort of thing, really light frothiness, like a bad day at the beach. ... One day an Italian guy came into the cafe and told me I didn't know what I was doing. Grind your own coffee, that way you get more of a say in what your coffee tastes like. I was intrigued by this and badgered my mum until we invested in a grinder. As soon as I tried the coffees we made with the freshly ground coffee, I could taste the difference'. Toby notes that it is important to have a good, well-maintained grinder, as no amount of great technique can compensate for inconsistent grind size.
Putting his studies on hold, Toby headed to Brazil at the age of 27 and did a year-long apprenticeship, travelling with coffee agronomists, visiting coops, farms and estates. He learned to cup coffee and says it was here that he developed the skill in identifying defects and flavours in coffee. Five years later, he set up a batch roaster in his mother's garage in Woolloomooloo, where he trained baristas and arranged coffee tastings. This led to the opening of his first little coffee shop and a love affair with coffee and and coffee trails. 'I fell in love with coffee. And I wanted to meet its parents", he says.
Get your passport ready. Coffee Trails takes the reader through Ethiopa (said to be the origin of coffee), on to Yemen, India, Jamaica, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and Papua New Guinea. There are coffee classifications, a brewing guide, cupping guide and a section titled The Espresso Wheel, which explains the principles of optimal extraction in detail.
We meet the farmers and their families, visit plantations, learn about growing regions, harvest seasons and even average temperatures and average annual rainfall in each region. There is a wealth of fascinating information, accompanied by superb photographs by Garrett Robinson.
The perfect gift for the coffee lover in your family. Coffee Trails by Toby Smith (The Messenger Group) is available from Toby's Estate $39.95.
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