Last month a group of 10 riders from The 5th Floor boxed up their bikes and headed to Sierra Nevada, Spain, for their annual training camp. In the four days they were there, they covered over 350km of riding and almost 8,900 metres of climbing.
But it was one ride -- one mountain -- that drew them there in the first place. 5th WMN's captain, Sophie, takes us through its ups and downs.
When Luke sent around the route links for our Sierra Nevada trip, my ears pricked at the Pico Veleta. I'd read about it in an edition of Cyclist Magazine: Europe's highest paved road. The profile was pretty much one giant triangle. One enormous Toblerone triangle with absolutely no gaps.
The route looked and sounded tough, but it wasn't until the morning of the ride that it really sunk in. What lay before us was 43km of pure uphill. We drove from our house in Gergal to Granada, about an hour and a half of smooth, winding tarmac flanked by wind and solar farms, and national parks.
We had to ban any Googling of stats on the climb as the nerves started to buzz.
Before we left the house we'd already devoured two decanters of São Judas Tadeu that we'd brought with us, but we still settled in Granada for another.
Delaying and procrastination techniques reached fever pitch.
I can't take you through all four hours of the climb. I'll leave that for your own pilgrimage to the Pico (or, in lieu of that, I'd recommend looking up the 2013 Vuelta, in which Chris Horner sung his swan song).
What I can do is pull out some of the points that will linger in my memory for some time.
The gradient in the first few kilometres edged towards 28%. Whilst the pros pushed back on their saddles and appear to power up, we danced a clunky waggle-weave up the steepest parts, avoiding each other's wheels whilst slowly ticking off the meters. The gradient eased and took us up through cherry groves and pine forest followed by an open moonscape littered with clumps of wild thyme and herbs the higher we went.
The top was higher than the highest ski lift. It's hard to remember that riders don't just ascend this mountain in the summer, but that skiers also fly down it in the winter. The rutted roads from the piste bashers of many winters were evidence of that.
Still closer to the top, the tarmac became gravel, which in turn became dark shale and we, along with a headwind, all arrived at the top. Truly breathtaking.
And then came the 43km descent. It was awesome in the original sense of the word; smooth and empty four-lane roads with sweeping turns and views of turquoise quarry pools and hamlets dusting the mountain sides.
The Pico is a one off – it’s a proper challenge. Especially when climbed the ‘other’ (tougher) way round.
That 43km time segment will remain my lifetime best. I won’t be doing it twice.
As well as their bikes, The 5th Floor also packed our BREW BUNDLE: FOR TWO for their trip to Sierra Nevada. The team are continuing to race throughout Europe and throughout the year. Their Summer Cyclocross Series is already underway and you can stay up-to-date on everything they're doing by visiting their website.
The era of the self-flagellating barista is over.
Overly obtuse and complicated brewing procedures that were once entertaining and exciting are now simply annoying. “There are no points for difficulty in coffee”. What really matters is using fantastic coffee and thoroughly enjoying the cups that you brew.
To that end we’ve been on the hunt for an automatic filter coffee brewer that we aren’t just happy to recommend, but wholeheartedly endorse, stock and sell to our customers.
When we first dipped our toes into the world of auto-brewers we knew that we had to do a lot of experimenting. Upon testing a wide range of drip coffee makers we were scoring the machines in the following categories:
We looked at how comfortable and easy it is to engage with the machine, in preparing a pot, brewing and cleaning down, assessing the tactile qualities of the materials as well as sturdiness.
Assessing whether the machine is able to get the water up to an adequate brewing temperature, how quickly it does so and how stable it remains throughout the brewing process
We trialled different recipes and techniques with each brewer, playing every role from skilled barista to someone half-asleep and feeling lazy in the morning. We rinsed filter papers, agitated as necessary and levelled the coffee bed for a more involved brewing procedure, but also trialled simply adding coffee and water by eye, with no intervention during the brewing process. Our thoughts behind these tests were that the better brewer would be the one that can adequately extract the coffee in a range of different scenarios. Using a refractometer we could check which machine brewed a stronger cup when using the same dose of coffee and water, thus informing us as to the more efficient option.
It wouldn’t do to simply test the brewers once, so we brewed pot after pot of a wide range of coffees using water of varying hardness to see how the brewers coped in multiple scenarios.
Good things come to those who wait, but you can’t deny that your first cup in the morning can’t arrive quickly enough. Given that the machines will be popular in offices and cafes as well as in the home we wanted to make sure we selected a brewer that doesn’t take an age to produce a pot.
You can’t overlook the importance of a slick looking machine. The footprint of the machine as well as the choice and finish of materials needs to lead to a pleasing aesthetic.
Value for Money:
There are some super cheap and some crazy expensive automatic brewers out there. It was important to us to find something with good build quality but not cost the earth, as the more people that can enjoy our coffee, the better.
Obviously this relies on the brewer delivering well on the above criteria, but we made sure to taste, taste and taste again to ensure the brewer reliably produces something utterly delicious.
Our Winner: The Technivorm Moccamaster
The Moccamaster ticked every box for us, and we’ve since been using it to brew fresh pots every day in the Workshop Coffee roastery as an extension of our roasted coffee QC program (and to perk the team up during a day’s roasting and packing).
A lesson in utilitarian, industrial aesthetic and a great example of quality manufacturing, the machine is hand-built in the Netherlands and comes with a 5 year manufacturer’s warranty.
We were able to brew well extracted pots of coffee with minimal intervention, and have put together this concise brewing guide for those wanting to get the best out of their investment.
A Pretty Typical Scenario:
A customer enjoys a cup of our coffee.
They ask the barista about the beans used to make the cup.
To recreate the experience at home or work, they decide to buy a bag.
When paying for the bag they query - “It’s ground, right?”.
Until now we've been able to provide the customer with two options:
1. We grind the beans to suit their preferred brew method. I don’t need to go into detail explaining why this is far from ideal, but suffice to say this is like having your bottle of wine opened in store.
2. We broach the subject of grinding at home. Previously stocking only the Porlex Hand Grinder, we have divided the crowd. There are those who relish the tactile and portable nature of hand grinding. Others, less so.
But rejoice! The Wilfa is here - an electric grinder with quality burrs and a small footprint, giving fantastic results without great expense or (somewhat physical) effort, and now we're pleased to announce the new and improved version, the CGWS-130B!
Wilfa’s newest model comes in a very cool ‘Batman’ matte black casing, and is fitted with a new DC motor that boasts higher torque but fewer RPMs than its predecessor. This means you’ll be able to grind dense and complex coffees with ease, preserving volatile aromatics during the grinding process as less heat is generated by the slower burrs.
The chamber is designed to hold up to 250g, dosing out your grounds by use of the timer. We always find it better to weigh your dose before adding it to the grinder. The Wilfa retains very little coffee around the burrs (roughly 0.2g with each dose); weighing each time means your ground dose will be more accurate and the coffee stays fresher in its resealable bag.
We've spent a fair bit of time experimenting with the grinder and thought it prudent to share our findings with you, the main being the range of grind sizes proffered by the Wilfa is pretty wide and could be a little misleading.
Here are some rough grind settings you should start with for the various brew methods you might use to make coffee at home.
The window you should be grinding in is much, much narrower than the settings on the dial suggest.
From left to right (coarsest to finest) the dial reads OFF, STEAP [sic], FRENCH PRESS, FILTER, AEROPRESS, MOCCA. The Steep, French Press and Filter settings are very coarse. You could potentially use the Filter range of settings for brewing 1L plus in a large Chemex, or something equally slow draining, but generally for our style of coffee we're looking squarely at the Aeropress range on the dial.
Basically, you want to see some part of the word "AEROPRESS” on the dial, or you're likely too coarse or too fine for best results with normal filter methods. Treat these suggestions as jumping off points, adjusting as necessary to dial in the coffee to your taste.
Slide the grind setting to OFF, lift the hopper out and the top burr comes out easily. As mentioned before, the grinder retains very little coffee so a soft bristled brush is all you need to loosen spent grounds. It doesn't take much to securely lock it in again. Simply align the burrs and slot them back into place.
To make the prospect even more attractive, you can now group the Wilfa Grinder together with some of the other pieces from our hardware range in the form of our Brew Bundles. As well as providing you everything need to create the perfect cup of coffee in almost every eventuality, you score a rather substantial saving in the process.
If you relish the engagement and tactile natural of manual pour over coffee then this is the bundle for you (includes a 2 Cup V60, 100 Filter Papers, Salter Scale, Glass Decanter, Wilfa Grinder and a 250g bag fresh coffee: £125).
If you just want to press a couple of buttons and brew up to six cups in a few short minutes then this is the bundle for you (includes the Technivorm MoccaMaster, Wilfa Grinder, Gram Scales and a 250g bag fresh coffee: £240).
I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up owning a tandem. A friend and I decided we would cycle to Southern France and our pub logic dictated that it would be cheaper to buy one bike than two.
Turns out it was, and we did.
Then we found there were other advantages like no splitting up or waiting at the top of a hill, always being able to chat to each other but most of all it was fun.
When somebody sees us passing on tandem, it invokes one of two emotions - sheer joy or utter confusion. The former normally from children, the latter from old men (and both are just as funny to watch).
Having been on a few solo cycling tours, and after years of promising, it was time to (literally) take my girlfriend Brooke along for the ride. Cycling for me is the only way to see a country properly. I’m not normally a ‘quoter’ but there’s one from Ernest Hemingway that says:
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
I can confirm that this is doubly true on a tandem.
Greatest of all though, cycling means you get to eat (and drink) as much as you like (it’s fuel after all) and what better place to be fuelled than Italy.
We didn’t do too much planning for the trip. We were flying into Genoa and back from Rome 15 days later. Other than that, all we had on our to-do list were a few pretty towns, gelato, cheese, pasta and vino. We couldn’t go far wrong really.
Our first destination was Cinque Terre - five colourful coastal towns surrounded by mountains and connected by a train cutting through the cliffs. Unfortunately for us, tandems weren’t allowed on the train so it was the one road in (down) and one road out (up) for us. After three of the five towns and lots of pushing, we managed to beg our way onto the ferry - much easier.
From the coast we headed inland to the heart of Tuscany; Lucca, Montecatini, Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti, each town more stunning than the last. We quickly fell into the Italian pace of life, winding our way down through the countryside, stopping for swims and gelato when we fancied.
Everything we needed, we carried. Tent, food, clothes, water, wine, beer, cheese - all the essentials. The problem with one bike between two is that it means half the bags. We therefore had to be particularly strict when it came to packing. An AeroPress, some Workshop Coffee and a Porlex grinder ended up taking priority over an pair of pants.
Lugging coffee and a grinder may seem like an unnecessary luxury (especially when in Italy), but this trip wasn’t about speed. Camping, cooking and brewing were just as much part of the experience as the pedalling.
Though the landscapes, views and roads change daily and a daily routine quickly took hold and coffee always came first.
Laying in your sleeping bag, looking out onto a new view each morning, we'd go through the AeroPress routine and it was pure perfection. Along with a breakfast of banana porridge and local honey (or if we were having a lazy morning, scrambled eggs), our coffee tasted even better outdoors.
Riding through the stunning Italian countryside, your mind would wander to all sorts of places but quickly settle on food. Cycling became the thing we did in between eating; set off: café stop with pastries; a bit of riding; lunch of fresh bread, local cheese and ripe tomatoes; a little more pedalling; gelato time.
We got used to it pretty quickly.
Italy was everything we hoped for. The Tuscan landscape was as beautiful as imagined, the gelato as smooth as promised and the wine - well, tasted of wine (I’m more of a beer man).
Doing it all on a tandem made the whole trip even more fun, for us and the locals. People would genuinely smile, laugh and point as we passed. And the answer to the question that everyone asked and you’re probably thinking: yes, I do know if she’s pedalling (or not as the case might be).
During the process of creating our limited edition, custom ceramic cups, we were lucky enough to spend some time in the studio with Moss Ceramics founder, Tsouni, observing and learning more about the ceramics process.
Inside Turning Earth studios, in a railway arch beneath the overground line between Hoxton and Haggerston stations, we discovered just how involved, focused and time-consuming each stage was.
Every cup began its life as one non-descript, unassuming pound of stoneware clay. Before going anywhere near a potters wheel, it would undergo the process of wedging; a physically involved procedure, this required the repeated (and purposeful) throwing down of the clay onto a work bench in order to remove any air bubbles and to help distribute its water content more evenly.
From there, it would be carefully and exactingly thrown by hand, transforming each ubiquitous lump into the shape of the beautiful and bespoke final pieces. Walking us through the steps she went through 160 times, Tsouni explains:
"For each cup, the clay was centred on the wheel and an indent was made in the centre. The cup walls were pulled up from there. My hands got so used to throwing the shape that by the end of the process, it felt as though they were almost making themselves."
Stamped with our W device, the cups were then left to dry for 24 hours before being checked over the following day for rough edges and imperfections and trimmed accordingly:
"The stamping required the most care – not only does it have to be done when the clay is at a precise point between wet and dry, but if you apply too much pressure you'll affect the shape of the cup. Of course, if you don't apply enough pressure, the stamp won't be bold enough."
Allowed to dry thoroughly for a further 48 hours, the cups then entered the kiln for their first firing at around 1,000oc. From there, each piece could be hand-glazed before being finished with one final firing in the kiln.
Only then were they ready to be shared with us and, subsequently, with you. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
To celebrate our new look, we wanted to do something special and that we hadn't done before. Today, we’re incredibly pleased to be able to showcase the results.
Approaching East London-based Moss Ceramics earlier this year, we’ve since been working closely with founder and one-woman production team, Tsouni, to create a short run of handmade Workshop Coffee cups to add to our shelves.
After reviewing and considering numerous test and sample pieces, the final design is a beautiful, robust and understated handle-less tumbler. Its smooth, glossy white-glazed interior spills out onto the upper-half of the cups exterior before giving way to the contrast of an unglazed, sandy, textural lower-half. Combined, it creates a cup that sits snuggly in the hand and, with solid, thick walls and base, holds the heat well.
Each cup has been thrown by hand and subsequently offers its own nuances and idiosyncrasies, and means that every one of the 160 cups we’ve created is unique.
Having left the studio in Haggerston, 60 of the collection have been gifted to our staff, meaning there are just 100 left.