01.11

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T H E   A R T   O F   T H E   B R E W

At a little before 1pm on Thursday of this week, I found myself wandering through an industrial estate over in East London, trying to sniff out a good cup of coffee. You see, I’d been invited along to spend the afternoon learning about the art of coffee making at Union’s roastery, and had been promised that I’d be able to smell the aroma almost as soon as I left the station.

My eyes were glued to the map on my phone as I walked past shipping company warehouses and anonymous grey-fronted offices, and I began to doubt whether I’d even left the station via the correct exit.

But, as promised, a waft of coffee drifted across my path just at the right moment, and led me straight to the Union headquarters!

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T H E   ‘ S N I F F ‘   T E S T .

Our masterclass began with a lesson in ‘cupping’, or, in layman’s terms, ‘the art of tasting coffee’!

Set out on the table in front of us were an array of glass cups, each filled with an inch of so of ground coffee. Before getting stuck into the coffee itself, we learnt a little about Union’s passion for their beans.

This passion was what struck me the most during the day with Union, and encompasses everything from dedication to creating a working relationship with their growers that goes beyond a fair trade stamp, and instead is something more reciprocal and evolved, to their assurance that every bag of beans they sell has been hand roasted to bring out the coffee’s nuances and idiosyncrasies.

Every person we met was so passionate about their work, and I have to say, it was infectious!

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Our first task was to breathe in the aroma of the dry roasted coffee grounds, and see if we could identify any of the ‘notes’. They each smelled so very different- one was dark and chocolatey, another reminded me of the tobacco my Grandpa used to smoke, and the next was fruity and sweet.

Once we’d had chance to smell them each in turn, next came the brewing! And the tasting too, but we’ll get to that a little later…

Water, heated to a precise temperature just below the boil and measured out to an exact quantity, was poured into each cup, and the coffee then was allowed to brew for four minutes exactly.

Are you beginning to see a pattern of precision, here? Who ever knew coffee could be so very exacting!

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You’d not believe how amazing the smell was, as we ‘broke the shell’ of each cup of coffee and put our noses to its surface.

Everything I love most about a lazy Sunday morning, all contained within one heady hit of aroma!

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We then set about tasting each cup in turn, sucking tiny spoonfuls of coffee across our teeth (it aerates the coffee and helps bring out its flavour, so we were told!) and talked a little about its flavour characteristics. Was it bitter, like the peel of a lemon? Dark, like cocoa, or sweet like raspberries and cherries?

I’ll tell you though, this whole thing about being able to identify different flavour notes? It’s harder than it sounds!

It sort of reminded me of wine tasting, except instead of getting more and more light-headed, you get more and more jittery and wind up with your heart pounding up against your ribcage as though it might burst out any moment ;)

I regretted not having had a bigger breakfast, I can tell you!

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E S P R E S S O .

My favourite part of the afternoon came next- time to brew up espresso!

Now, I’d been pretty happy with my at-home coffee brewing set up, up until we made (or rather, ‘extracted’, as is the term!) espresso using that spectacular machine you see in the photos here. Isn’t she a beauty?

I just can never quite get my espresso at home to be as rich and thick as the kind we made at Union. How much coffee do you reckon I’d need to drink for a top of the range espresso machine to become a justifiable expense? ;)

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^ ^   T A M P   I T !  ^ ^

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Barista trainer Geoff taught us about the correct ratios for a cup of espresso (roughly 1 part coffee grounds to two parts water), and about the importance of cleaning out the ‘basket’ (where the coffee grounds get packed into) so as not to mess with the flavour of each cup.

There’s something so therapeutic about watching an espresso pour, isn’t there? And would you look at that beautiful golden crema?

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^^ Taste test. ^^ The verdict? Delicious, of course!

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Next came a form of coffee brewing I’ve had no experience in whatsoever- pour over brewing.

That fancy looking piece of glassware above, the darling of the Instagram world, is a Chemex, and the team at Union told us that it makes the loveliest coffee to serve at the end of a dinner party!

I suggested using it as a vase for flowers in between times, and the idea didn’t go down all that well, I can tell you…;)

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The coffee drips through slowly the paper filter, and the result was some of the most delicate and light coffee I’ve ever had.

You can pick up a Chemex for around £40, which seems so reasonable a price for making fantastic coffee at home!

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Our final, and most anticipated lesson for the day was in everyone’s favourite- latte art!

And I feel like now’s the time for me to tell you that I’m actually giving up blogging and becoming a full time latte art professional instead, because I absolutely *nailed* it.

Okay fine, that’s not true in the slightest. But it really is harder than you’d imagine!

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Espresso was made, and milk heated just so in order to get a glossy, ‘stable’ foam. Geoff had given us a demonstration of how it’s done, and I felt confident that it didn’t seem all that tricky. (Oh Rosie, what were you thinking?)

I carefully began to pour right into the centre of the espresso, and then as the thicker foam started to flow, brought the jug right to the surface of the coffee and then pulled the milk ‘through’ the white dot that had formed to make…

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A swan!!!

Okay okay, what I actually did was wind up with milk spilling over the sides of my cup (because for some reason the pressure got to me and I forgot how to pour a liquid like a competent adult), and was left without so much as a hint of a heart shape on the top of my coffee.

Dan, who is Union’s resident latte art pro, made that beautiful swan design above. Isn’t it spectacular?

The afternoon really was such a fun one, and had I not already been a diehard coffee lover, Union’s infectious love for their craft would have convinced me for certain that coffee is where it’s at!

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And what’s really exciting is that for those of us who like our coffee made easy, Union are launching a their very own subscription service on Tuesday 3rd November, delivering roasted to order coffee right to your front door!

If you love the idea as much as I do, you can claim £3 off your first order using the code ‘ROSIE’! Pretty great, hey?

I’ll be sharing the link to the Union’s CoffeeClub site when it goes live this coming Tuesday, so keep your eyes peeled on my Twitter and Instagram accounts!

~ ~ ~

Thank you to Union for sponsoring this post.

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18.10

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A M O N G S T   T H E   F L O W E R S .

Growing up, garden centres visits were something of a ritual.

My family and I would meet my cousins and uncle at one or other of our many local garden centres every other Sunday, for cake and tea and hours of chatter.

I’d pick up my Grandma on my way home from lectures on Wednesdays during my first year or so of university, and we’d head over to the garden centre just across from where she lived for a happy afternoon of shopping and pottering and updating one another on our lives.

Christmas just wasn’t Christmas until we’d visited the festive displays in our favourite local nursery, and my sister and I would comment every year on how it never felt as sparkly or magical as the previous year’s display. Over the past decade, these traditions have changed and evolved, as our family has done the same.

But nevertheless, a garden centre visit still holds a special place in my heart…

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I met Tania in Richmond a few days ago, and together we moseyed our way along the river towards Petersham Nurseries. Tania had never been before, you see, and so we thought it was about time for a visit!

I’d been to Petersham 18 months or so ago with friends, back when the nursery was beginning to bloom in full summer glory.

This visit was decidedly chillier, a little breezier, but my goodness, just as beautiful as ever.

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Summer’s soft pinks and corals and lilacs have faded away, and instead the flower beds and potting tables now are filled with deep rust and berry tones.

The vines that have threaded their way across the ceiling of the greenhouse (that doubles as a cafe) are heavy with grapes, and the whole nursery is a feast for the eyes.

Not to mention the camera lens…

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We could’ve stayed there all afternoon, Tania and I. And thinking about it now, we pretty much did.

Lunch was bought and enjoyed in the greenhouse (a taleggio and kale bake for Tania, chickpea and potato curry for me, plus a slice of chocolate cake to share), and we fell in love a hundred times over with the idea of owning a vine-filled greenhouse big enough to set up a dining table in. Can you even imagine the dinner parties?

The rest of our afternoon was spent wandering up and down the beds, taking 101 photos of the vibrant dahlias and herbs and greenery, and talking about how much we both loved playing hide and seek during the garden centre visits we made as children.

Not that there was ever any doubt that our friendship were solid as a rock, but sharing a love of garden centres cemented it that bit further.

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I’m wearing :: Scarf (< almost identical!) || Roll-neck jumper || Riding pants || Boots | Handbag

I must just take a brief minute to talk to you about that dreamboat of a roll-neck I’m wearing. It’s without doubt the most cosy, yet effortlessly stylish jumper I’ve ever owned, and I’m yet to go a day whilst wearing it that it doesn’t get complimented.

All that, *and* it doesn’t need hand washing? Consider my heart officially stolen!

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06.09

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After we’d stopped to refuel at The Breakfast Club (and agreeing that yep, the food there most definitely lives up to the hype), Mum and I hopped onto the little train that runs along the sea front, and headed East from the pier towards the marina.

Comfortably full from lunch, we trundled slowly along the beach on the tiny train, working up more than a few butterflies in our stomachs thinking about the next activity on our agenda for the day…

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…J E T   S K I I N G !

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Our slot on the skis was booked for 4pm, and we were equal parts nervous and excited. Neither Mum or I had ever done anything like jet skiing before, and I had visions of us being so appalling at it we’d end up crashing into a passing boat or falling off our skis or something else equally ridiculous!

A worrier, me? How dare you. ;)

We met Steve, our instructor and the owner of Brighton Jet Ski Tours (who I’d booked our experience with), on one of the jetties, eagerly donned wetsuits, and then took our places on a couple of jet skis.

After a quick lesson in how to work them, we carefully negotiated our way one by one out of their little docking points, and began cruise slowly out of the marina.

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I’d expected that perhaps we’d have to be given lots of lessons about how to ride the skis once we were out on the water, and that Steve would stick pretty close by us to monitor how we were getting on, but in fact, just as soon as we were clear of the land, we were off!

Steve and my Mum were up ahead of me flying so fast it was all I could do to keep up with them both (my Mum’s got this thing about speed!), and the adrenaline that rushed through me the second I opened up the throttle and began to speed faster and faster across the open ocean…well. I can barely explain it!

(We’re switching to iPhone shots from now on- I had it strung round my neck in one of those little cheapo waterproof bag cases. A true lifesaver- at the speeds we were doing, I’d have lost it over the side for sure otherwise!)

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The water was still as could be, and the faster we went on our skis the more it felt as though we were skimming just above the surface of the water, barely touching it at all.

I kept finding myself laughing out loud as we raced faster and faster towards the horizon, and had these bursts of pride watching my Mum flying in circles around my jet ski looking more vibrant and joyful than I think I’ve ever seen her.

It was the *most* fun!

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After a good 10 minutes or so of racing along at speeds of 40 miles per hour, we paused to catch our breath.

Mum and I were in mid-flow discussing the feasibility of us buying our very own family jet ski (not feasible, as it turns out…), when Steve interrupted us to shout the most magical two word sentence I’ve ever heard in my life.

‘Look, DOLPHINS!’

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A pod was a little way away from us following along in the stream of a boat, playing and dancing and cresting out of the water every few metres or so.

We watched them, mesmerised, as the group danced along beneath the still water and the mothers led their tiny calves up to the surface for air.

The experience of watching them from a distance was more than wonderful enough, and yet our luck was to double, treble, quadruple!- because about twenty minutes later, we found ourselves with a second pod swimming all around our jet skis!

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At times they were close enough that we could’ve reached out and stroked their sleek grey backs (we didn’t, of course!), and they kept pace with us as we floated slowly along on the water.

It truly was the most breath-taking experience of our lives- having these beautiful, powerful creatures gliding along next to and beneath us, watching them leaping clear of the water, and knowing that the experience we were having was a real once in a lifetime encounter with truly wild and free animals.

I’ve been obsessed with sea life for as long as I can remember (I wanted to be a marine biologist for a long time, but had to let go of the idea when I realised I lacked a vital aptitude for science ;) and so getting to be so close to dolphins in the wild was pretty much a dream come true.

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This little video snippet does the experience more justice than I could do in a thousand words!…

{Dolphins in Brighton! from Rosie Chappel on Vimeo}

And with that, our time out on the water had to come to an end.

I could happily have stayed out there all evening, watching the dolphins play and the sun dip lower and lower in the sky. In fact, Steve told us that he was going to head back out again right after we’d said (a somewhat reluctant!) goodbye and thanked him for an incredible afternoon.

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Mum and I hopped back into our ride, put the music up loud, and drove back home towards the setting sun.

And given how many times since we’ve turned to one another and said ‘Wasn’t that just the best experience ever?’, I don’t think it’s a day we’ll be forgetting any time soon.

~ ~ ~

 ~ This post was sponsored by Vauxhall, as part of their #ThisGranCan campaign and in celebration the relaunch of the VIVA. Both Mum and I were so impressed with how light and easy to handle the car was- in fact, I was quite sad to say goodbye to it when the time came! ~

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03.09

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Do you know what I’ve always admired most about my Mum? Hands down, it’s her joie de vivre.

She has this incredible, unending appetite for life that seems never to diminish, but instead to grow as the years go by.

I’m sure I’ve told you before about how the dynamic between us has always been the total opposite of that of the typical Mother-Daughter relationship, in that my Mum is by far in a way the more adventurous and outgoing of the two of us.

She spent her younger years travelling the world on the QEII (the biggest cruise liner in existence, at the time!), booked herself onto a trip to Ghana a couple of years after hitting the big Five-Oh, and barely a week goes by where she’s not signing up for some new short course at the local adult education centre, or zipping off to visit friends in far flung corners of the UK.

Meanwhile, I’m more likely to be found researching recipes for the perfect winter chutney, or rereading my favourite books (Little Women, anyone?), or telling anyone who’ll listen how elated I am that I’ve managed to keep my tubs of herbs growing happily for almost an entire season now.

I mean, if you ever want advice on how to grow older with style and grace and exuberance, you’ll just have to ask my Mum!

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A couple of weeks ago, Vauxhall dropped me an email asking if I knew of anyone over the age of 50 who happened to embody the spirit of their ‘#ThisGranCan’ campaign. The campaign, as I was to find out, is a celebration of the adventurous spirit and ‘can-do’ mindset that many women over the age of 50 have, and is coinciding with the launch of the VIVA, their newest and nippiest little car (the first model launched over 50 years ago!) And you know, as it happens, I *did* know someone who fit the bill just beautifully!

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Which is how it came to be that, a couple of Fridays ago, my Mum and I were seated comfortably in the smart leather seats of a shiny grey Vauxhall VIVA, shooting down the M3 singing loudly and poorly along to my wedding playlist! And I’ll tell you for starters, that car won major bonus points with me for its swish USB connector alone…looking at you Fiat 500 with your stupid non-functioning media system.

We left bright and early for Brighton that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a day of good weather to go along with the adventures we had planned. I’d been given strict instructions by Vauxhall to let my Mum take the reigns when it came to selecting our activities for the day, and given that my usual idea of a good time pretty much just involves eating, pottering, and taking photos, it was probably a sensible plan to put our Day Of Fun in the hands of one Ms Dianne B! ;)

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First on the agenda? Why, a trip to the pier, of course!

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^^ Oh Brighton and your beautiful pastel paintwork. You stole my heart! ^^

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If you can believe it, despite living a mere hour or so’s drive from Brighton almost my entire life, I’d never actually been before. Sacrilege, right?

We decided that our first port of call should be a visit to one of the vendors of hot sugary carbs that are scattered at handy intervals along the pier. Mum went classy (-ish, this is Brighton pier we’re talking about!) with a crepe, whilst I bagged myself some doughnuts with Nutella dipping sauce (did you see that coming? I’m as predictable as there being rain on Bank Holidays in the UK). The crepe was good, but the doughnuts, if you ask me, were best. But then again, anything with Nutella was bound to be, wasn’t it?

Once we’d eaten our fill and left ourselves feeling a little sick from all that sugar (though I’m lying when I say ‘ourselves’ here, since really it was only me…), what better to do next than hit the rides?

To the carousel!

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N E V E R   T O O   O L D   F O R   T H E   C A R O U S E L . . .

Friends, the carousel is just as much fun at the ages of 20-something and 50-something as it was when you were a tot. The tinny music, the wind in your hair, the view from the brightly coloured horses that always zip round faster than it looked like they would from the sidelines- it felt like the clock had rolled back!

A little sidenote here, but I’ll treasure that snap of my Mum up there forever! I just love it so very much. (And for goodness SAKE please let me have inherited her beautiful skin!)

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What I wore :: Skirt || Top || Flipflops

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Our morning went by in several goes on the carousel, one trip down the Helter Skelter, and a myriad of turns taken on the arcade games right at the end the pier. My especial favourites were the basketball throwing and air hockey games, though no fluffy unicorns were won on any of our goes, which was maybe the biggest disappointment of my adult life to date…;)

What came next in the day though, after we’d paused for a little lunch at The Breakfast Club in the Lanes, turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences either of us had ever had in our lifetimes.

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But for those adventure stories? You’ll have to come back on Sunday…

~ This post, and our day down in Brighton, was sponsored by Vauxhall. Watch the ‘This Gran Can film here, & find out more about the VIVA here! ~

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