Photography · Scotland

Friday photo: Trinity North Church

Trinity North Church in Kelso was designed by John Starforth and built in the 1880s. It’s a magnificent building that has sadly fallen into disrepair. Now in urgent need of upgrading, it’s on the market for offers over £75,000. Refurbishing it in any way would be extremely costly and no doubt subject to many regulations since it’s a listed building, but I hope some enterprising person saves it from demolition. It even has its own gargoyles.

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Photography · Scotland

Friday photo: 3 bridges, 3 centuries

The three bridges in this photograph span the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and Fife. To the left, the white triangular-shaped bridge is the Queensferry Crossing (opened in 2017); next to it, the grey bridge with its sweeping dark span is the Forth Road Bridge (opened in 1964); on the right, the second largest cantilever bridge in the world is the iconic red-painted Forth Rail Bridge (opened in 1890).

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Three centuries of bridges over the Firth of Forth, as viewed from South Queensferry.
Coffee · Photography

Decadent Decaf Coffee Tasting

I was recently sent two packets of coffee from the Decadent Decaf Coffee Company. Based in the south-east of England, the company produces a range of high quality coffees, decaffeinated using the chemical-free Swiss Water process.

The two varieties I received were Colombian (strength 3) and Indonesian (strength 5) ground coffees. I was particularly pleased to receive the Colombian, since it’s the variety I would have chosen from their range. The Indonesian offered a contrast, being one of the strongest coffees the company produces.

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Indonesian and Colombian coffees from Decadent Decaf Coffee Company.

It occurred to me that my brother would be the ideal taster for the Indonesian coffee, since he likes his coffee both decaf and as strong as possible. I sent that packet off to him, and made a pot of filtered Colombian coffee for my mum, my dad and myself. Thus, we had four tasters: three for the Colombian and one for the Indonesian. They were given numbers as follows:

Taster 1 – my mum
Taster 2 – my dad
Taster 3 – me
Taster 4 – my brother

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A freshly brewed filter pot of Decadent Decaf’s Colombian coffee.

A plate of sweet treats was set out with the coffee mugs, in case anyone needed a little solid sustenance to keep them going during the tasting.

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Decadent Decaf Colombian coffee with chocolate-covered Lebkuchen hearts.

Each taster was furnished with a piece of paper and a writing implement, and asked to take a well-considered swig from their coffee cup. Special attention was paid to first impressions of the beverage, with munching of Lebkuchen being forbidden until initial thoughts had been recorded. These were the first impressions of the Colombian coffee tasters:

“smooth, rounded taste and texture: flavoursome without being bitter” (Taster 1)

“mellow, smooth, nutty and pleasant” (Taster 2)

“fresh, light taste; smooth and slightly nutty, with no bitterness” (Taster 3)

Without sharing notes, each of the the three tasters had used the word ‘smooth’ to describe the coffee. Further notes were made, a score out of 20 was given, and each taster chose one word to sum up the coffee.

18/20 Not for people who like their coffee strong, not enough ‘zip’ for waking one up in the morning but good in the evening as a soothing beverage. With a little bit more taste it could reach 20/20. In a word: subtle

17/20 Not at all too strong, nice with Lebkuchen hearts; I expected it to be more distinctive but was quite pleased that it did not stand out in any way. I wondered about adding sugar but just had another Lebkuchen heart. In a word: mellow

18/20 Very soothing; silkiness leaves no aftertaste, which is unusual for coffee. Highly quaffable. In a word: fresh

Meanwhile, Taster 4 was busy doing his stuff in a galaxy far far away (actually about 90 miles south-east of the other three). He wisely paired his coffee with a slice of cheesecake and concentrated on his mission.

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Decadent Decaf Indonesian coffee with blueberry cheesecake.

He tried making it in a cafetiere, and also as an espresso, and these were his impressions:

When used in a cafetiere it makes a slightly bitter coffee, with a robust smoky flavour with hints of chocolate; it makes an excellent, smooth espresso.” (Taster 4)

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Decadent Decaf Indonesian coffee, made as an espresso.

17/20  I’m very happy to find there’s a company dedicated to providing serious decaffeinated coffee, and I hope they manage to persuade coffee bars to sell their products. Those not used to decaffeinated ground coffee would probably be surprised to find that it was decaff, especially in espresso format, but there are (these days) many good decaff ground coffee options available. In a word: cocoa-y (if there is such a word).

*  *  * 

All in all, the coffee slipped down a treat. To achieve scores of 17/20 and 18/20 with two different coffees and four different tasters seems to me a considerable success.

All four tasters are regular drinkers of decaffeinated ground coffee and have their preferences from among the supermarket brands, but with most brands it’s hard to find out how the caffeine is removed from the coffee because they tend not to volunteer that information. There are several different decaffeination processes, some of which use solvents that have had a bad press. As mentioned above, Decadent Decaf’s coffees are decaffeinated using the Swiss Water process, which is guaranteed chemical-free. That perhaps gives the consumer some peace of mind, and if they also enjoy the taste of the coffee they might be more likely to buy Decadent Decaf over another brand.

As well as the decaffeination process, the price of any particular coffee is a factor for most people. I was fortunate to get these coffees for free, but if I wanted to buy a packet of the Colombian it would set me back £5.99, and the Indonesian £6.59. I would also have to pay for postage, since as far as I’m aware Decadent Decaf isn’t on sale in any shops near me. There are, admittedly, online discounts for regular purchasers, so if you bought a lot of coffee, or were very keen to stick to coffee decaffeinated using the Swiss Water process, you might think the price was worth it.

My usual decaf coffee purchase, Sainsbury’s House Blend, is available locally and costs £2 per packet, a third of the price of Decadent Decaf’s Colombian coffee. The Sainsbury’s one, as with some other supermarket brands, is also a Fairtrade product. I didn’t see any mention of Fairtrade on Decadent Decaf’s coffees or on their website, so I assume their products don’t qualify for that description. The downside with the Sainsbury’s product is I have no idea how it’s decaffeinated and suspect it’s probably done using one of the cheaper solvent methods.

On behalf of all four tasters, many thanks to Decadent Decaf for kindly sending these two coffees for tasting; it was an experience enjoyed by us all.

Nature · Photography · Scotland · Tree

Friday photo: Pitscandly Hill

A few days ago I visited Murton Farm nature reserve, near Forfar in the county of Angus. On a previous visit, made in the summertime, the landscape was filled with bright yellow gorse and bushy green-leaved trees. By late October it was equally beautiful, with autumnal shades and a feeling of things settling down for the winter.

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Pitscandly Hill viewed from Murton Farm nature reserve, near Forfar, Angus.
Photography · Postage stamp · Royal Mail

Postage stamps: Ladybird book covers

In my youth, my siblings and I had quite a collection of Ladybird books. Ladybird books were first published in 1914, although it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that they became enormously popular. A few years ago I bought a box of postcards featuring Ladybird book covers, which provided quite a trip down memory lane.

When I went into the Post Office a few weeks ago it wasn’t to buy stamps, but when I saw the new issues featuring Ladybird books I couldn’t resist buying the two designs of 1st and 2nd class.

Each of the 1st class stamps features three books, one depicting books from the Early Tales and Rhymes series, and the other from the Key Words Reading Scheme. Of the books shown on the stamps, I think we may have had ‘Piggly plays truant’ when I was a child but I’m not sure about the others.

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1st class stamp featuring Ladybird books from the Early Tales and Rhymes series.
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1st class stamp featuring Ladybird books from the Key Words Reading Scheme series.

The 2nd class stamps were more familiar to me, and I was delighted to see that one of my favourite Ladybird books was amongst the three Well-loved Tales depicted. In fact, I think we had all three of the books shown in this series.

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2nd class stamp featuring Ladybird books from the Well-loved Tales series.

‘The elves and the shoemaker’ was a book I read over and over again as a child. I loved the idea of busy little elves working industriously through the night making shoes to help an old shoemaker.

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One of the Ladybird postcards included in the box I bought a few years ago, featuring ‘The elves and the shoemaker’, one of my all-time favourite Ladybird books.

The other 2nd class stamp also looked familiar to me. We had quite a few of the Adventures from History series, and of the three depicted I’m fairly sure we had the Florence Nightingale book and the Queen Elizabeth one.

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2nd class stamp featuring Ladybird books from the Adventures from History series.

It was such a joy to find these stamps that I bought rather a lot of them. I’ve managed to use quite a few, but I suspect I won’t want to part with my last ones for some time.