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15 February 2018

Book Review: The Monk of Mokha

Dave Eggers’ new book The Monk of Mokha tells the remarkable and inspiring story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni American in search of a dream — until, after a few false starts, he stumbles down the rabbit hole of speciality coffee. After growing up in San Francisco’s tough Tenderloin neighbourhood, Alkhanshali knows he wants to do something more with his life but doesn’t have a plan. Then one day, a friend tells him to check out the statue of “a Yemeni dude drinking a big cup of coffee” opposite the fancy apartment building where he is working as a doorman. The statue — of a man who “seemed to be some mash-up of Ethiopian and Yemeni" — turns out to be located in the lobby of a building built by the Hills brothers, whose company had a key role in popularising coffee in the United States throughout the 20th century.

Intrigued, Alkhanshali begins to research Yemen’s role in the origins of coffee: the country is home to the first coffee cultivation and organised coffee trade, but its exports have since withered to a negligible level. At the same time, Alkhanshali learns about the intricacies of contemporary speciality coffee production and preparation. His training ground is first the Sunday morning cupping sessions at Blue Bottle’s Oakland headquarters and then Boot Coffee, where he becomes the ever-present, enthusiastic apprentice of Willem Boot.

And soon, the apprentice has a plan: he will create the world’s first Yemeni speciality coffee company, empowering farmers and growers and producing high-quality coffee beans, while maintaining high standards of ethics and transparency. To do this, Alkhanshali must first become a Q grader — a speciality coffee expert qualified to rate and score Arabica coffee — and pass a test of 22 parts, some of which “would seem to the generalist or everyday coffee enthusiast insane”, Eggers notes. And even then, starting a company in Yemen during a civil war was never going to be easy, and along the way, Alkhanshali must evade Saudi bombs, Houthi rebels and other dangers besides. I cannot imagine that anyone has ever gone through as much adversity to attend the annual Specialty Coffee Association conference as Mokhtar did.

Eggers’ narrative is beautifully written and hugely compelling. His description of the history of coffee is fascinating, entertaining and rich with colour, his language wonderfully evocative, from the coffee beans like “piles of red cherries like huge ruby-red beads” to the Ethiopian shepherd Khaldi’s over-caffeinated “jumping, prancing, braying” sheep. But most of all, Eggers conveys Mokhtar’s passion, drive and determination in his quest to make his dream a reality. It’s an inspiring story — one I didn’t want to end — I wanted to spend more time in the company of this incredible man who made his dream into a reality.

Naturally, the first thing I did after finishing the book was to Google Mokhtar’s company, Port of Mokha, and read more about what happened after the events depicted in the book. The coffee isn’t terribly easy to get hold of in the UK, but I hope that the success of The Monk of Mokhtar will make it more accessible. Otherwise, I hope to be able to track it down in the United States sometime. As for Mokhtar Alkhanshali himself, London readers can find him at an event to discuss the book and his story at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, on 5 March. I might well see you there!

12 February 2018

At Melbourne in Lichfield, Coffee, Cruffins and Community

"I didn't know Lichfield until I came to Melbourne," said one of the regular customers at Melbourne in Lichfield on Saturday morning. The coffee is impressive at Melbourne in Lichfield, a small speciality coffee shop tucked away down an alley — laneway in Melbourne lingo — in the titular south Staffordshire town. But it was the sense of community that Melbournite owner Deb Pease has created around her Bolt Court bolt hole that impressed me even more. Even on a cold, rainy winter's morning, regular customers were queuing up outside the kiosk for the coffee, cruffins and conversation, served up in equal measures.

My family comes from the Black Country town of Walsall, and although we used to drive the ten miles northeast to Lichfield quite often when visiting our relatives, it has been several years since my last trip to the small cathedral city. As such, I wasn't expecting to find any speciality coffee and had brought my Aeropress with me on my visit last weekend, but a quick Google search soon brought up Melbourne in Lichfield, which happened to be a two-minute walk from our hotel. Between the five of us in our family, we got through about 15 hot drinks in two days — a sign of how much we liked the place.

Melbourne in Lichfield is located about halfway along an alley that runs from bustling Market Street to the Bird Street car park in Lichfield town centre. The diminutive space is more of a large kiosk than a cafe, but there are a few stools (replete with blankets, as we're not really in Melbourne anymore, Toto) underneath the overhang where you can perch to enjoy your coffee and chat with Deb and the other friendly baristas. There is Melbourne-laneway-inspired graffiti art on the walls, and reusable cups for sale in Melbourne in Lichfield's distinctive black and yellow colours. They have also worked with local businesses to try to encourage people to use reusable cups wherever possible (the Union-branded takeaway cups are also compostable).

The house espresso — and Deb's favourite (it even says so on the hopper) — is Union's Rwandan Maraba, which I enjoyed as a piccolo and as a V60 pourover. The bright, fruity coffee had lovely redcurrant notes that came through both in the espresso-based drink and the filter coffee. It's a really drinkable coffee and I can see why it has proved so popular. V60 and Aeropress aren't technically on the menu, but if you are in the mood for a filter coffee, the team are happy to brew one up for you.

During my visit, the guest espresso was a DR Congo Idjwi Island coffee from Wiltshire-based roasters Girls Who Grind. Described variously by Deb as "fierce AF" and "the boldest coffee I've ever tried," the coffee had particularly delicious marmalade notes when I tasted it as an espresso. It was nice too with milk, although perhaps slightly less fierce.

I don't normally go for non-coffee lattes but Deb made me a shot of their turmeric latte, which surprised me pleasantly with its smooth but spicy, gingery flavours. But if you want a more decadent treat, don't leave without trying one of the cruffins (croissant muffins). The chocolate button and salted caramel one I tried was delicious, and my sister-in-law was a big fan of the lemon curd flavour.

More exciting still, a second, larger Melbourne in Lichfield location will soon be opening on Bird Street. This one will have indoor seating and a brew bar and Deb hopes it will become another community hub. One of the best things about the job, she says, has been surprising local customers with a really good cup of coffee. And better still, the customers want to know why the coffee tastes so different — and so much better — than coffee they have drunk in the past. It's this sense of inclusivity and the complete lack of coffee snob-ism that makes Melbourne in Lichfield such a special place. I can't wait to go back and to visit the brew bar when it opens — I might even try to bring my pony!

Melbourne in Lichfield. 2 Bolt Court, Market Street, Lichfield, WS13 6LA. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram.

7 February 2018

Coffee Subscription Review: Dog & Hat

Sampling outstanding coffees, discovering new roasters and trying coffee varieties or origins that I might not otherwise have chosen are three of my top criteria when considering a speciality coffee subscription service. With a dapper, doggy sigil and a focus on high-quality, ethically sourced coffee, Dog & Hat Coffee is a multi-roaster speciality coffee subscription service run by the Morgan Family in York. I had heard good things about the company, including from fellow coffee bloggers Bean There at, who reviewed the November box, and my first Dog & Hat box easily met all three criteria.

Su from Dog & Hat kindly offered to send me a complimentary box for review, although I wasn't obliged to post anything, and as always, receiving a review product influences neither my decision to review it nor my opinions of it in any reviews I do write. I received the February box, which included three bags of coffee beans, one roaster for filter, one for espresso, and one that would work equally well for both. And overall, I was very happy both with the service and the coffee — two of the three coffees were truly excellent, and the third allowed me sample some very good coffee from a country still in the early stages of its speciality-coffee journey.

The box arrived towards the end of January. Very few coffee (and other) packages fit through my letterbox at home (and the three-coffee box is unlikely to fit through many people's letterboxes) so I had it delivered to my office. I was impressed, however, with the minimal and completely recyclable packaging — no plastic and no bumf, just the coffee and Dog & Hat's concise but detailed coffee guides.

When you sign up for a Dog & Hat subscription, you can select whether you'd like two bags of (usually) 250g coffee beans per month (£17) or three (£24), and whether you'd prefer espresso-roasted beans, filter-roasted beans or an assortment. Delivery is free within the UK, which makes the service very good value, especially given the quality of the coffee. The coffees also arrived soon after their roast date, which is particularly important for people like me who live alone and who sometimes take a fortnight to get through a bag of beans. My box featured three new-to-me, UK roasters (previous Dog & Hat boxes have featured roasters from other European countries):

I started with the Pharmacie coffee (not just because the packaging coordinated so well with my Acme cup). I ground the coffee in my new Wilfa Svart grinder and brewed a cup using my Kalita Wave dripper. Dog & Hat's coffee guide includes a suggested water:coffee ratio, which was a very helpful starting point. When you've got an outstanding coffee, the specific flavour notes hit you as you stand over your brewing device; in this case, I left my mug in my kitchen and I could smell the apricot and creamy strawberry notes from the hallway. Needless to say, this coffee extracted beautifully, both at home and in my less precise, kettle-free, scales-free office kitchen. What a super coffee!

The Don Chico coffee from London roaster Long & Short was roasted for espresso and although it made a nice enough pourover, it really shone as an espresso. My home espresso brewing lags behind my filter-coffee efforts, but even my inexpert shots tasted very good as espresso with chocolatey and nutty notes shining through. When I made a flat white, my latte art proved more recognisable than usual — another good sign that the coffee was extracting very nicely.

Finally, I dove into the Fuyan — not the first coffee from China I've tried, but my sample size is pretty small. Although coffee production in China continues to grow, speciality-grade coffee hasn't been as quick off the mark, so I was interested to try this Django coffee from the Yunnan region. Brewed through the Kalita, I got various complex, fruity flavours, and it has really opened my eyes to a coffee origin I wouldn't always look to.

You can sign up for a Dog & Hat subscription here. They are taking orders for the March box — which includes coffees from Hoppenworth & Ploch, Dear Green and Moonroast, as well as a sample from The Girl in the Cafe — until 20 February.

2 February 2018

Book Review: The Philosophy of Coffee

What do dancing goats, an Indian Sufi named Baba Budan and a City of London side street called St Michael’s Alley have in common? If you've read The Philosophy of Coffee by Brian Williams (AKA the titular Brian of Brian's Coffee Spot), recently published by the British Library, you should know the answer.

But if you need more of a hint, all three feature in Brian's fact-packed, whistle-stop tour of the history and global ascendancy of coffee as a bean, commodity and beloved beverage. Brian charts the rise of coffee houses and their ever-evolving role in society, shares some fascinating stories — including from his own personal coffee journey — and debunks a few myths and misunderstandings along the way (the oft-cited 'statistic' that coffee is the second most-traded commodity on the planet, for example).

In the journey from the seven coffee seeds of the Indian Sufi Baba Budan to the first, second and third waves of coffee, there are 'penny universities' (see also The Black Penny), petitions against the 'Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE', and more recent disrupters from Starbucks and the Friends coffee house, Central Perk, to speciality coffee companies such as Prufrock and Square Mile.

Although I've been on a coffee journey of my own since the turn of the millennium, I've never studied the history and evolution of coffee. Instead, I've picked up parts of the story along the way but Brian's book offers a wonderful overview, which draws together many of those loose ends. I found the chapters discussing the emergence, spread and culture of the coffee house — and its role as a forum, meeting place and socio-political hub — particularly interesting. I grew up in Oxford where I used to hang out at the Queen's Lane Coffee House, which is reputed to be Europe's oldest continually operating coffee house. My coffee tastes have changed since then but I used to enjoy reading or working there, surrounded by centuries of history, coffee-stimulated discussions and cultural connections.

The Philosophy of Coffee also benefits from some lovely illustrations and photographs from the British Library's archives — I'm a sucker for the adverts of yore, in particular. This isn't a book solely for coffee obsessives, however (although they will, of course, enjoy it): it is a fascinating read and very accessible to non-specialists.

Disclaimer: The Philosophy of Coffee is out now, published by The British Library. I bought my own copy from The British Library shop and although Brian is a friend, all opinions here are my own and, as always, completely honest.

31 January 2018

My Top 10 Travel Experiences of the Past Five Years

Later this year, I am travelling to Peru, where I should be able to cross another item off my bucket list: hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu. I'm really excited about the trip, which will be my first time in South America, and I couldn't help but look back on some of the other amazing travel experiences I've been lucky enough to have over the past few years. I hope some of these will inspire you with your own holiday planning for 2018 and beyond.

1. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
Since I obtained my PADI Open Water qualification 15 years ago, I have longed to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, off the eastern coast of Australia. Unfortunately, when I finally made it to tropical North Queensland, my ears were playing up so I had to 'settle' for a snorkelling excursion instead. And it was a beautiful, memorable experience, where I got to swim with turtles, spot a shark and admire myriad species of colourful tropical fish. Despite the climate-change-induced catastrophic bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, the reef is still a fascinating ecosystem to visit. If you're interested in finding out more about the ecology and zoology, I'd highly recommend taking a trip with Wavelength.

2. Ziplining through the clouds (Costa Rica)
Costa Rica is a relatively compact country and you can see a great deal during a two-week trip. One of my favourite activities was a zipline tour through the cloud forest of Monteverde, culminating in a 1km-long zipline through the middle of a cloud.

3. Chasing the Northern Lights (Iceland)
Although the Northern Lights weren't at their most epic the night I got to see them in Reykjavik, they were still impressive and besides, the hunt — with SuperJeep — was half the fun. The tour was expensive but I would definitely take it again next time I go to Iceland.

4. Grotto-hopping in Capri (Italy)
While in sunny Sorrento for my cousin's wedding in 2016, my family hired a small boat to take us out to the island of Capri. We spent a blissful day swimming, snorkelling, sunbathing and exploring the various grotte that can be found along the island's coast. We visited the famous Grotta Azzurra (blue grotto), of course, and although it was very busy and hammier than a leg of prosciutto, I really enjoyed the experience.

5. Early-morning sushi in Tokyo (Japan)
There's nothing quite like landing in Tokyo on a sunny morning after a long, overnight flight, dropping off your suitcase at your hotel and heading straight out for an early sushi breakfast. I missed the fish auction but had the freshest, most delicious sushi of my trip at Daiwa Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market. The market is going to relocate ahead of the 2020 Olympics, but the move is now not scheduled to take place until October 2018, so you still have time to enjoy it in its original state. I had so many memorable experiences during my 10-day trip to Japan and it's top of my 'must revisit' list.

6. Oaxacan cooking class (Mexico)
I love the flavours and colours of Mexican cuisine and ate some delicious dishes while staying in the colourful city of Oaxaca. One day, I took a wonderful cooking class with Oscar Carrizosa, where we shopped for food at a local market and then prepared (and ate) a huge variety of dishes. It was an excellent introduction to Oaxacan cooking — and understanding the local food culture also helped me feel more connected to the friendly people of Oaxaca. Needless to say, Mexico comes a close second after Japan on my 'revisit' list.

7. Skydiving from 15,000 feet (New Zealand)
After a fab fortnight in Australia and two wonderful weeks in New Zealand, I celebrated the end of my one-month sabbatical by skydiving from 15,000 feet over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables. It was a literally breathtaking experience and one of the best things I've ever done. I jumped with NZONE and would highly recommend them; you can watch my (slightly sweary) video here.

8. Sailing through beautiful Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
Three days and two nights aboard the small but well-equipped Dragon's Pearl, cruising past hundreds and hundreds of limestone islands in Ha Long Bay was as relaxing as it was beautiful. I was glad I upped my budget and booked with Indochina Junk, as they took us to the quieter but just as stunning Bai Tu Long Bay. On our final night, we enjoyed a barbecue feast in a UNESCO-listed cave. A top-notch trip, even if the sun didn't grace us with much of its presence.

9. Motorbike tour of Saigon street food (Vietnam)
I planned only to include one experience per country but I just couldn't choose between Ha Long Bay and the street food tour on the back of a motorbike that I took in Saigon. I'd never ridden on a motorbike before, but my XO Tour guide showed me a great time. I ate some delicious street food dishes and saw parts of the sprawling city of Saigon that I probably wouldn't have reached by myself on such a short trip.

10. Third-wave coffee tour in Portland (Oregon, USA)
You weren't thinking I'd make it through this list without a speciality coffee bucket-list item, were you? And although I could have included my fast-paced, self-guided tour of Melbourne's speciality coffee scene, I wanted to give a shout out to the excellent tour led by Lora of Third Wave Coffee Tours in Portland, Oregon. We visited five of the city's signature micro-roasteries and cafés, with a different coffee experience in each. Of course, I visited plenty of others during my short stay in Portland, but Lora gave me a great introduction to the local coffee scene.

17 January 2018

Some Thoughts on Reusable Cups and the 'Latte Levy'

I've been a bit quiet so far this year both on this blog and on social media, as I've had other priorities both at work and in my personal life. But it would have been hard to miss the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee's recent report highlighting the problem of single-use coffee cup and proposing a 25p 'latte levy' on their use. We throw away 2.5 billion coffee cups in the UK annually, and the report proposes a complete ban if a system for recycling them is not developed. Some years ago, I was guilty of misguidedly putting such cups with their plastic lining into recycling bins and was then cross with myself for not looking into this sooner.

Photo: my primary KeepCup in Byron Bay, Australia.

As for the report, there are some excellent, well-written and thoughtful analyses of its proposals and potential consequences, including from United BaristasBrian's Coffee Spot, James Hoffmann and cafespaces. The report has certainly got those who work in and/or follow the speciality coffee industry talking about the issues on social media, which is also good, although unsurprisingly, no total consensus, even if many of us ultimately want the same outcomes, on a basic, ideal-scenario level, at least.

Various alternative ideas, nudges and solutions have been proposed, and I'm sure many more will follow. It's certainly challenging to find ways to drastically reduce such an out-of-control environmental footprint without impacting the independent coffee shops who may not be able to withstand the financial consequences of a latte levy or a disposable-cup ban. (If, like me, you know very little about planning laws in the UK and how this relates to a coffee shop's takeout vs drinking-in ratio, this United Baristas' primer is very informative.)

For a long time, I wasn't overly concerned about my own disposable-cup footprint. That's not to say that I never use them, but for me, a cup of speciality coffee is a treat — a pleasure to be savoured while spending some time in a café — so I almost always drink in. If I know I will be going to a coffee shop to get a drink to take away, I will take a reusable cup with me — I have two 8oz KeepCups, one plastic and one glass and cork, and a tumbler from Coava in Portland. It's very rare that I spontaneously decide to buy a coffee from an independent coffee shop and don't have time to drink in, so carrying around a reusable cup at all times is a pain, given the low usage it would get. The main exceptions to this are a) when I get coffee after running and have nowhere to keep my KeepCup — about 1–2 times per month — and b) when I travel for work and have to squeeze an unexpected coffee shop visit in between meetings.

Although the reusable-cup offering has improved in recent years (Brian has a great guide on his blog), there still isn't a perfect cup for me. I tend to use my plastic KeepCup the most because it's lightweight, fits underneath my Aeropress and comes in pretty colours. The lid has occasionally come off in my bag, allowing my coffee dregs to leak and I don't like the 'taste' of drinking coffee from a plastic cup. Glass cups, however, like my KeepCup Brew, are heavier and more fragile. The Frank Green cups were retailing all over the place in Australia when I visited last year, and I love the design and functionality — except the cup doesn't quite fit under an Aeropress and thus is useless for my travel needs. There are collapsible cups available, which could solve my running problem, but the ones I've seen are too large for my 4–8 oz drinks (and my pockets) and unattractive. Yes, I'm shallow but yes, shallower drinks can be served in reusable cups too and people use products more when they take pleasure in using them.

I visited a lot of coffee shops in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Wellington last year, and in many of them, most takeout customers were queuing patiently with their reusable cup. It was the norm, rather than the exception. I've also seen multiple examples there of 'KeepCup' being used as a generic noun for a reusable cup — the other brands may not be too fond of this, of course, but it is a sign of how commonly they are used.

Photo: my KeepCup enjoys a rooftop view over Sydney Harbour (and the Aeropress-brewed Proud Mary coffee it holds).

Just over a year ago, Brian published a post on the Coffee Spot calling for an end to the use of disposable cups. I didn't commit then to never using another disposable cup then and I'm not going to now either. Nobody is perfect, especially not me. In the past year, though, I have cut down my already minimal use. For example, rather than getting a filter coffee to go and rushing off to my meeting, I try to order a piccolo in a ceramic cup and drink it at the bar (trying not to get in the way of staff or other customers). There are also times when I just haven't bought a coffee I would have done otherwise because I don't have a reusable cup with me and don't have time to drink a filter coffee in the shop. This makes me sad, because I love to support and write about independent coffee shops (a number of 'reusable cup' discounts have already been springing up; I thought Caravan's was particularly interesting).

Of course, the onus is on me to find a way to continue to give these small businesses my custom without adding to the coffee-cup mountain, whether it's by carrying a reusable cup with me more often, planning better to make sure I have time to drink in, ordering a drink-in piccolo instead of a hand-brewed filter coffee to go...or holding out hope that someone will invent an attractive collapsible coffee cup, suitable for use with petite beverages. I suspect the inventor may well find a market!

10 January 2018

How To Pack for a Two-Day Business Trip in a Laptop Backpack

Last year, I ended up taking a lot of two- and three-day overseas trips, some for work and some for pleasure. One of them was at such short notice — four hours — that I was glad I keep a bag packed with most of the key essentials at home. Regular readers will know that I also love to travel light, especially on short trips, and my rediscovery of the humble backpack last year help me to reach new (weight) lows.

I'm heading to Toulouse on Thursday for a one-night work trip and I thought I'd show you what I packed for two days of meetings in a cool, rainy European city. I pack almost exactly the same things for most two- or three-day trips, though, with a few small changes.

The backpack

My parents bought me the Tumi Voyageur Halle backpack as an early birthday present last year and it has replaced Longchamp's Le Pliage large shopper as my carry-on or personal item (if I'm also taking a suitcase) when flying. I also use it for work, particularly if I am transporting my laptop or other heavy items. There is a laptop sleeve inside, which fits a 12-inch laptop and although only lightly padded, it's fairly well-protected when the bag is full. There are also lots of pockets, which are great for compulsive organisers like me. When I'm flying, I tend to keep the main front pocket for my toiletries and Kindle so that I can remove them easily when flying. The top zippered pocket on the front is useful for storing sunglasses or headphones. The bag is made from nylon, with a leather handle and gold hardware, which means it's lightweight and the padded sleeves make it very comfortable.

The handbag

I used to be a big-handbag woman, but I've been trying to coax myself into downsizing. Buying a new compact camera (the Canon G7X mark II, which I've been very happy with) helped with this and I finally bit the bullet and bought Madewell's crossbody tote during a Black Friday sale. It fits: my (very small) wallet, phone and earbuds, passport, Kindle or notebook, camera, pen, keys and lipbalm. It's also small enough to slip under my coat should I be on a 'strictly one bag per person' Easyjet flight. I can also use this smaller bag for dinners or meetings where I don't want to bring my backpack with me.

The tech

  • Laptop and charger. When I'm travelling for pleasure, I can take my MacBook Air, for which I have the international adapter kit. My work laptop is quite lightweight but its charger is bulkier and requires an adapter. This still fits in my backpack with the other kit.
  • Kindle Paperwhite. Even short trips involve some downtime and I usually have a range of novels downloaded and ready to go.
  • Headphones. I always have a pair of Apple earphones with me (they're the only in-ear earphones I can wear) and depending on the trip, I sometimes also take my Bose SoundTrue headphones (updated version here), which pack down small but are comfortable and have great sound quality. I'm toying with replacing them with some noise-cancelling, bluetooth headphones but I'm not sure I have room in my backpack!
  • Compact camera. Unlike my beloved but bulky Canon 100D DSLR, my new compact G7X camera is so small that I take it with me almost everywhere. I also bring a USB SD card adapter to transfer the photos to my computer; the G7X also allows me to transfer photos directly to my phone, which is great for Instagramming on the go. The battery usually lasts for at least three days of shooting but the camera can also be charged via USB, so I bring a cable just in case (which also works for my Kindle).
  • Cables and USB charger. I usually have a couple of Apple USB cables and at least one micro USB cable with me to keep all my gadgets happy.
  • Portable charger. I bought an Anker PowerCore+ Mini charger last year. It is indeed 'lipstick-sized' and I get more than one full iPhone 7 charge per recharge. At home, I only need to charge my iPhone every other day but I use it a lot more when travelling, particularly now that Three's Feel at Home package means that I can use my data for free almost everywhere I travel.

The other kit

  • Clothes. If I'm travelling for business, I usually pack one change of clothes per day, which means packing one or two dresses respectively for a two- or three-day trip (wearing the other, along with my cardigan, coat or jacket and scarf), or sometimes just two tops, which I will wear with a black skirt. I generally wear black boots — either ankle or knee, depending on the weather. If I'm going away for a long weekend, I usually wear jeans and my Nike Pegasus trainers, and bring two extra tops. 
  • Toiletries. I keep mini versions of all the essentials — shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face cleanser, moisturiser, eye cream, deodorant, toothpaste and a few make-up items — in a transparent travel pouch. I also keep a toothbrush here and have a travel-sized Wet Brush.
  • Passport. Obvs.
  • Wallet. I use a small Tumi cardholder as my main wallet both at home and when away. I keep a couple of credit cards, my driving license and a few business cards inside. I only use cash when forced, but there's room for a couple of notes and even a few coins in the zip compartment. I also have a coin purse where I keep dratted coins and less commonly used cards. When I travel, I tend to remove all the excess cards and use it to keep coins and any receipts I acquire.
  • Notebook and pen. My wonderful friend gave me a Empire State Building-clad Smythson notebook for my birthday, which is beautiful but compact.
  • Compact umbrella. I sometimes substitute this for my sunglasses but rarely have to bring both.
  • Klean Kanteen water bottle (18 oz). I drink a lot of water and the neon pink colour of this bottle cheers me up even when I've had to walk half a mile across an airport to find the one place it's possible to fill up my bottle.
  • Other essentials. The striped pouch contains a few other bits and bobs, including ibuprofen, ear plugs, plasters and hairbands. I need total darkness in order to sleep so I always take my sleep mask when I travel. I've tried many of these over the years, but Lewis N. Clark's remain my favourite. I also keep a reusable bag (Baggu's baby size is my favourite) in all of my bags. I sometimes use it to keep things clean or more protected even if I don't use it as a bag.

The alternates
  • Coffee kit. I don't usually take coffee-making kit with me on a two-day trip. I usually seem to end up in destinations where there is good coffee available (in which case, I'd like to try that rather than brewing my own). If not, I make sure I have two big cups before leaving home on day one; I can live with having one bad or mediocre coffee on day two (sacrilege, I know). For three- or four-day trips, I sometimes take my trusty Aeropress. I also have a Made by Knock Aergrind, which I've been very pleased with, but it's fairly heavy, if small, so I would probably only take it on four- or five-day trips where there was little chance of any good coffee.
  • Running kit. Depending on the weather and how much free time I will have, I sometimes bring my running kit; if I'm travelling for work, I can only do this if I also have space to bring a pair of ballet flats, in which case I'd wear my trainers.