How not to do cafe PR

When I am not looking for great coffee out and about, or trying to make great coffee at home, or writing about coffee in these parts, I moonlight as a PR consultant. It pays some of my bills, and along with being a full time student, keeps me pretty busy.

So here’s a case of my interests colliding – coffee, blogging, and public relations, if this was a church owned cafe it’d tick almost all my boxes…

A new cafe was opening its doors. It was trying to create that ephemeral PR currency – buzz. I’m not one for “awareness raising” for the sake of awareness raising, and if any PR person tells you that all publicity is good publicity it’s time to look for a new consultant (ahem, my contact details are pretty easy to find…).

Anyway. The cafe offered free coffees to a bunch of bloggers. And received some initial comment. But then something went wrong. Its opening date was delayed, and for some reason it had to switch addresses. Here’s where things get interesting… They reached out to a blog called fitzroyalty and when nothing had happened for six months he posted wondering where the cafe was, and included the email they’d sent initially.

PR rule number one must be never write anything in an email you don’t want splashed across the web. They broke that one too.

Here’s the highlight…

“It’s going to be massive for the area so it would be great for you write something on your blog about it! We’ll be able to sort you out with a free coffee card or something similar for your trouble.”

Mmm. Free coffee.

But. The cafe owners didn’t like that post – so in the comment thread on a post wondering why they hadn’t opened yet – they withdrew the offer of free coffee. Sad pandas.

Then things got bizarre. The cafe owners emailed the blogger to ban him for six months. Before they opened. On the basis of that discussion.

“The team here at Stencil have recently had a discussion about your article and poor behaviour regarding it. As a result of this we have decided to place a 6 month ban on you coming into the cafe when it opens up the road from the original planned location in just under a month’s time . However, you can work to over turn this ban with positive press on your blog. But as it stands it will be 6 months of not being allowed into the cafe or getting someone else to come in on your behalf so you can blog about it. Once the ban is up you are welcome to come in and PAY for your coffee or check out some of the fantastic artwork.”

And more bizarre… with this invented poster

The second rule of PR, in my experience (or one of them), is to think of your business or brand as a person. And don’t do anything as a brand that people don’t like other people doing – so blowing one’s own trumpet is out (somewhat self defeating, I know). This cafe opened by claiming that it would one day become an institution. The quote on the poster above didn’t come from the blogger in question, but rather, was invented by the cafe.

And here came the icing on the cake. A move that broke just about every PR commandment. Here’s the hilarious pitch after the fake sign went public…

“My suggestion is telling readers that the whole thing was a gag to get everyone talking about Fitzroyalty and just for readers to enjoy as a bit of different content on the site. We could then say that Stencil was kind enough to get in on the fun. If we say it was a viral type ad for Stencil and not content for you is people could still look on not only us but you badly as well, and that’s the last thing we’d want.
So in basic terms it would be like ‘Gotcha! Was just a fun idea me and the guys at Stencil cooked up for something different on the blog’.
This is a win win situation for all parties involved as it will make us both look good.
IMPORTANT! Obviously we would be willing to help you out financially for making a statement like this and are happy for you to discuss a rate, much like it would be as advertising on your site. Now I know you don’t accept free coffee! etc for a review but perhaps we could bend the money rules for this situation as it is very different. We’d of course make sure the money would be worth your while.”

Rule three, or perhaps the golden rule of PR, is don’t bite the hand that feeds you – or, don’t pick fights with people who buy their ink by the tonne – that was the pre-web version. Now it’s just don’t be a nasty person online, or it will come back to haunt you.

For the record, does not accept free coffees for the purpose of a review (I do accept free coffees from people who feel generous)… I have a full and frank disclosure of my approach to reviewing cafes on my about page – it has been there since the very beginning (with slight updates over time).

$300 PID machine on Kickstarter

This looks interesting. And though I have more coffee machines at my disposal than one could possibly imagine, I am sorely tempted. For scientific purposes of course.

It’s a PID controlled machine, I think the next cheapest one of these on the market is around $1,000 (or whatever the new Breville is selling for now).

It is so very tempting. International shipping is just $12.’s Top 10 Brisbane Cafes for 2011

Finding good coffee in Brisbane isn’t hard. Choosing the best ten cafes in Brisbane is… But after a year of hard coffee drinking in the name of “research”… here are my results.

They’re decisions made on “vibe” and gut feel – but also using a range of categories including number of visits, average quality (ie consistency), wife approval factor, desirability, availability of parking, whether I’d take friends there, how readily I’d recommend said place to friends in the neighbourhood… etc. Applying my year’s coffee drinking to those categories has left me with the following results. The Corner Store gets an honourable mention – but some of my favourite staff have left, and I confess I haven’t been back since. Pourboy should also feel a bit ripped off, but their inner city location and non-weekend opening hours just don’t work for me.

Anyway. Here are the “winners”… links go to review.

Number 1: Dandelion and Driftwood: Dandelion and Driftwood has been my “local” all year. And it’s not all that close. Quality, consistency, and a rotating batch of amazing single origins get these guys over the line with room to spare.

Dandelion and Driftwood

Number 2: One Drop Specialty Coffee: One Drop is narrowly in second place. My wife would put their house blend ahead of Dandelion and Driftwood’s stock coffees. Personally I reckon it’s a coin toss between these guys and cafe number 3. Either way, it’s close competition at the top…

One Drop Specialty Coffee

Number 3: Cup Specialty Coffee: Cup do things in style. They probably have an aesthetic closest to my heart of all the cafes on the scene. West End gets three slots of the top five – and Cup is the best of that bunch.

Cup Coffee West End

Number 4: Veneziano’s First Pour: Veneziano doesn’t do a bad coffee, and two of the best single origins I’ve ever had were from here. Again, I reckon you could flip a coin to split these guys and Cup.

Veneziano First Pour

Number 5: BlackStar, West End: To be honest there are a couple of cafes I prefer to BlackStar. But they happen to use BlackStar’s beans – and I reckon the roastery should get the kudos for that.


Number 6: Campos: Campos does great food and good coffee. But it lacks some of the personal touch that the cafes above it exhibit (except maybe First Pour). Parking is also a pain.


Number 7: Fifth Battery Roasters: Fifth Battery has a cool menu, is set up in an old air hangar, and the coffee is consistently good. I had a cracker of an Ethiopian coffee here that made me go back twice in one day. It was that good.

Fifth Battery

Number 8: Shucked Espresso: I’ve only been to Shucked once. And it was last week. Had I been more, and been more able to speak of consistency, these guys could have placed much higher. The single origin I had on my single visit was the single best coffee I had in Brisbane all year.


Number 9: Bunker: Bunker loses out a little because its just a hole in the wall in Milton. On coffee alone they’re a hair’s breadth away from any of the places above them on this list. Their coffee, supplied by BlackStar and Cup, is sensational. But sitting barely works, parking is a pain, and its not a cafe so much as an espresso bar. But the coffee is grand. EDIT/UPDATE – Bunker tells me they’ll be open on Saturdays in 2012 – which is fantastic. And that they’ll have more seats – which is also fantastic. I also failed to mention that Bunker is a good coffee option at both the Kelvin Grove and West End markets.


Elixir: This slot was hardest to fill, and had I not been to Elixir a couple of times in the last few weeks it would have remained a write off. I feel a bit guilty for my initial review – because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed subsequent visits, and their seems to be more soul about the place than I might first have suggested.


Dandelion and Driftwood clean up at the Queensland Barista Championships

As if everybody’s favourite Brisbane cafe needed something to bolster their glowing reputation… the Queensland Barista Championships were on in Brisbane over the weekend. There were a few categories on offer – a brewers cup, a cupping comp, a latte art throwdown, and the big one – the Queensland Barista Championship. was there on Saturday for a few of the heats – but the heat in the Di Bella warehouse was too much for his pregnant wife to bear…

The Queensland Barista Championship is part of the regional rounds of the AustralAsian Specialty Coffee Association (AASCA) national championship – the winners face off for the chance to represent Australia at the World championships. It follows the World Barista Championship format, you can check the judging cards here. Each competitor is judged on their preparation of three rounds of drinks, and their mad Barista skillz… The first round is espresso, the second a cappuccino, and the third is a signature drink that captures the essence of the coffee. These are typically really creative (and the D&D competitors have their drinks on the menu in store this week).

One of the competitors, a Brazilian guy using a Brazilian coffee, prepared his signature drink using oranges, peanut butter, honey, corn, and coffee. It had an interesting aroma.

D&D took out first, second and third in the Brewers Cup. Third in the latte art comp. And First and Second in the Queensland Barista Championships. Matt Troughton took out first place. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for his performance. I was, however, there for the second place winner – Janelle Kingsley’s routine – and her signature drink was amazing.

Her coffee, from memory, was a natural processed Costa Rica Las Lajas, which grows at the foot of a volcano. So here signature drink, served in oil burners, was a coffee lava.

She whipped up a caramel sauce, using butter, cream, and brown sugar, and a chocolate ganache (cream and dark chocolate), and added some freeze dried strawberry to the mix for texture and to create a visual sense of molten lava. It’ll be on sale on Thursday at Dandelion & Driftwood – and I’ll be there to check it out.

Training for these championships is hard work – and requires a bit of investment on the competitors’ part. The table settings they come up with for the judges are usually pretty elaborate – theming, from the way the competitor talks about their coffee, to the tasting cards, to the table settings, to the signature drink, requires a fair bit of thought and practice – and the fifteen minutes allowed for each competitor seems to fly by.

It was fun checking out the competition. The coffee industry really does seem to have a real sense of camaraderie. And it seems there are plenty of people working to lift the bar when it comes to coffee in Brisbane – and we can thank the competitors and companies who are investing in these competitions for that. So well done to Dandelion and Driftwood. I’ll post a link to the full results and all the competitors when the AASCA report goes up.

Climate Change could Kill Coffee

That’s a pretty alarmist headline. I know. But read this article from an environmental scientist. And weep. Mourn. Gnash your teeth. And then propose a solution… Coffee production isn’t going to die any time soon – but coffee prices are going to keep going up.

“But several coffee-growing regions have experienced a run of poor seasons, which is attributed to drought and unpredictable rainfall.

This has occurred across Central and South America, Africa and Asia.

Poor coffee seasons, coupled with the continual rise in coffee consumption, have led to demand exceeding supply and an increase in prices.

It is not yet clear whether these occurrences of drought and unpredictable rainfall are associated with climate change.

But several studies predict that the extent of cool, moist coffee-growing regions will indeed diminish due to climate change.

In the pursuit of favourable climate, plantations will also be forced further up mountainsides, which obviously has its limitations in terms of both land availability and the ability of farmers to migrate.

Like most of the globe’s resources, pressure is put on coffee supply when populations and demand expand. But with increasing demand and higher prices comes new suppliers to the market.”

CBS is a little bit more extreme in its treatment of the effects of climate change – running a headline: Climate Change Pushing Coffee to Extinction

The Wall Street Journal reports that heavy rain in Central America – home to some of my favourite coffees and 10% of the world’s coffee harvest – is threatening coffee production.

Here’s a few paras from that story from behind the paywall (via Sprudge).

“Félix Regalado, who cultivates coffee on a small farm in Honduras, the largest coffee producer in Central America, and thousands of other coffee farmers are about to start harvesting the bulk of Central America’s crop at a time when supplies are tight. Stockpiles of arabica coffee in exchange-certified warehouses have shrunk nearly 60% since September 2009.

Big coffee roasters were looking to this upcoming harvest in Central and South America for relief from three years of lackluster global production. However, the severe rains, which have already claimed scores of lives across the region, are dashing such hopes.

“The coffee is falling from the plants, both ripe and unripe berries,” said Mr. Regalado. The berries contain the beans that are cleaned and roasted to make coffee. Not only is the actual coffee damaged, but weather conditions make it difficult for farmers to harvest and get the beans to storage terminals or ports.

“When it rains like this, we can’t cut,” Mr. Regalado said. “And when it’s slippery, we have to transport on horseback.”

Things aren’t looking good for coffee production. And while the market is probably overcrowded with Fairtrade people producing quantity but not quality anyway, there are enough non-discerning people out there that this means those of us who care about the taste of our cup, not just the ethics, can get the best of both worlds…

Here’s my solution. Other than being more environmentally friendly and thinking about buying sustainable coffee… why not make a Microloan to a coffee farmer interested in sustainability. There are currently 29 loans returned on a search for “coffee” on the site. I made a couple last week. You should do it too. I’m going to look into having some sort of coffee fund on Kiva. You could also make a donation to’s FairCrack program.

Introducing: Coffee Commons

One of the things I love about snooping on the specialty coffee scene online is just how nice they all are to each other. Coming from a background in the tourism industry, where one of the major avenues for success is teaching businesses who might see themselves as rivals to think of themselves as partners, it’s just so nice to see that coffee people already get that. And two cafes in the same suburb are actually much more likely to be in competition with one another than a jetski tour and a car hire company… But when you watch the owners of the cafes you love interacting on Twitter, or follow little bits and pieces of coffee news online, you get the impression that people who are seriously into coffee are seriously interested in improving quality across the board.

Which is where this new website – Coffee Common – come in.

Check out the website. Here’s the first paragraph from the about page.

“We of Coffee Common gather as a community with shared values. We understand coffee as the most complex and extraordinary beverage in the world. We believe that great coffee requires study, experimentation, craftsmanship, and humility. We believe that great coffee is, at its best, a collaboration of an empowered coffee farmer, an artisan coffee roaster, a dedicated barista, and an enlightened consumer. We believe that collaboration can be an act that promotes global economic prosperity, social parity, cultural exchange, and culinary expression.

We also believe that coffee doesn’t need sugar.”

It sounds a bit like a church, committed to spreading the good news together. And I like that.

Science says: Don’t freeze your coffee

Serious Eats is your favourite food blog. You just may not know it yet. They conducted a blind taste test (with the help of my food hero J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.


The table was littered with tiny paper cups numbered one through eight, each representing a different method for storing coffee beans:

  • 1. Whole beans stored at room temperature in a Ziploc bag (Ziploc bags are not hermetically sealed—air can still escape and enter the bag)
  • 2. Whole beans stored at room temperature in a one-way valve bag (from which CO2 can escape but stale-making air can’t get in)
  • 3 and 4. The same beans stored in the freezer
  • 4, 5, 6, and 7. Ground coffee stored in the same 4 manners

The grinds and whole beans all came from the same batch. The coffee was stored for two weeks before we cracked it out, to get the full effect.

The taste test followed an earlier, less scientific, test, which came up with the following conclusion (which I agree entirely with)…

“Looking at the results with an open and caffeinated mind, my recommendation is to treat fresh-roasted coffee just as you would fresh-baked bread: Better to buy a little bit, use it up while it’s fresh, and buy more when needed. And, just as with fresh-baked bread, the second-best—though by a mile—option is to prepare it into individual servings and store them air-tight in the freezer (in the case of bread, that means slices; for coffee, that means premeasured doses you’d use to make a certain size batch of joe at a time), using only what you need at any time and never letting them thaw and refreeze.”

When beans thaw they sweat and their chemical make-up changes. It’s bad. Mmmkay.

Beanhunter Updated

If you love coffee and iPhones and travelling to places you’re unfamiliar with. Or if you’re just looking for something new and different. Beanhunter has you covered. It’s a brilliant crowd sourced coffee review app that sits snuggly in the confines of your iPhone and helps you avoid bad coffee. What more could you want? How about an updated version. That’s right. Christmas came late this year. Beanhunter has just released an update to their website and their app (on the App Store).

There are 225 cafes reviewed in Brisbane alone, so it’s well worth checking out. Do it. You won’t regret it. I can’t speak any more highly of an iPhone app.

They’re sociable types too. On both Facebook and Twitter.

Creative design from the South

Get in touch with us!