When mum and I visited the Royal Armouries a couple of months ago, we went for a drink at Laynes Espresso in Leeds Dock and noticed that there was a rather impressive coffee roasting machine in the building next door.

We went inside to have a look and met a guy called Ollie who explained that we were standing in North Star Coffee Roasters – a “coffee roastery in Leeds dedicated to providing coffees of the highest quality by working with specialty focused producers all over the world.”

Coffee roasting machine

Ollie said that they were also an academy, offering professional training to baristas, but also courses for amateur enthusiasts. Knowing that James is a big coffee lover and that his birthday was coming up, my ears pricked up at this point.

I had a look on the website when I got home and then emailed Ollie to see what kind of course would be most suitable for James. Ollie was great and we had an ongoing email exchange to decide what James would enjoy the most.

There were a lot of good “ready made” group sessions available on the website, but as I knew James was keen on learning latte art and I didn’t want him to do too much that would put him off his own Nespresso machine (last year’s Christmas present!) I decided on a tailored private course.

We walked to The Docks on Thursday (day 7 of our “staycation”!) and I left James to it. He was buzzing afterwards – mainly because of the large quantities of coffee he’d consumed – but also from learning something new and having a good time.

Rather than attempting to describe something I didn’t do, I’ve asked James to do a guest post for me. Here he explains in his own words what the experience was like.

Leeds Dock

It has become a tradition that for my birthday present Wifey will send me on a training course to go learn how to make something that she will sooner or later end up consuming. In previous years I have been taught some cocktail mixology (courtesy of Mojo’s) and been packed off to London to learn how to make sushi at Yo Sushi!. It was somewhat surprising then that this year I was booked on a three hour privately taught coffee course at North Star Coffee Roasters in Leeds, as Han can’t stand the stuff. Hence my guest appearence on The Blog.

Han and I went to meet Ollie at their roastery-come-training centre based in the Leeds dock area on Thursday evening. We were greeted by Holly, their resident coffee specialist who was busy feeding coffee beans in to a hungry yet beautiful steam-punk-esque roasting machine, and continued to work hard for the rest of the evening. Ollie joined us, and after a brief introduction Han left (making sure first that I knew I had to take pictures for The Blog!).

My main fear was that I may not be able to taste properly. I’m pretty confident that I can discern between good food and excellent food, but in terms of identifying such things as “notes” or “hints” within a taste, I’m lost. So after seeing eight small glasses ready prepared and labelled with different coffee beans in each I was worried I wouldn’t taste the difference. I needn’t have been concerened.

Ollie *loves* his work. I got the impression that, given the opportunity (and adequate caffiene), Ollie could keep talking about coffee for a week without sleep, and yet still remain interesting. North Star do offer professional training for baristas – it’s in their interest as they want to be sure their customers get the best out of their product – as well as other home barista and home brew masterclasses. For me, Ollie offered to tailor my course to cover some of the best-bits; these were professional tasting, espresso brewing principles and latte art.


It was a pleasure to listen to someone speak so passionately yet so practically about the subject. Ollie walked me through how coffee is tasted and compared, the language used to compare them, how different beans are blended to build different flavours, and how each variable of the brewing process can affect the final drink. I have always thought when I’ve seen a barista weigh their coffee grinds that it was a bit of a charade, given that they’re making thousands of cups a day. Ollie was able to demonstrate that a gram of coffee grind or a second of brewing time can make a huge difference in taste.

For the last hour of the session Ollie expertly explained in very straight-forward terms how to properly steam and pour milk and I’m proud to say after a few attempts (and sadly some wasted coffee) I produced something that vaguely resembled latte-art. Achievement unlocked.

Latte art


It quickly became apparent that there’s more to coffee than a “grande latte” and I certainly wasn’t aware of the depth of the subject before. It’s well known that the more you learn about a food the more you appreciate it, and I’d strongly recommend this to anyone who wants upgrade their coffee experience. That said, Starbucks is now ruined for me.