At the end of January David Leeper came to have a chat with me whilst I was stewarding at ArtSpring Gallery. He explained that he has entered a coffee barista competition, and would love to have some coffee cups custom made by a local potter. Well all that sounded lovely and he liked the sort of work I showed him. The problem was that he needed them for 17th February. Suddenly it’s starting to sound like one of those silly challenges on The Great Pottery Throwdown.
I was careful to be frank with David about the risks. Even if I made the pots the next day they would then have to dry, the bases would have to be turned, they would have to dry completely before firing. That wouldn’t be quick in February – a week if we’re lucky. Then they have to be glazed, inside one day and outside the next because they have to dry again in between the two stages. Then the final firing. A quick flick through the diary app on our phones. Hmm, they would be ready a few days before the competition. And that assumes that I don’t mess up anywhere along the way.
On the plus side I had made some espresso cups some years ago and they held exactly the 4 fl. oz. he was looking for. What’s more I already had batches of the glazes he liked made up and I’d used them recently so the risk of the glaze not working was minimised. I had the right clay in stock.
I scaled up the cup I had made before to allow for the shrinkage of the clay in drying and firing and did a test run that night to work out what weight of clay would be right. (Because of course I hadn’t written it down when I made them!) I turned the bases the next day and measured them to check that the size would be OK. I wasn’t convinced – they looked a bit big. Nevertheless I ploughed on and made a run, including some spares. After a few days they were all made, turned, and brought into the house to speed up the drying.
The following week they were in the kiln for the first firing. As soon as they emerged I lined one up next to the original and to my amazement it looked about right on size. There is still a little shrinkage to go in the final, and highest temperature firing. I glazed the inside with white and let them get touch dry before applying wax to the rim and the area of the side where the lip will rest. The next day I sponged off any white below the wax line and let them finish drying. The final process was to dip them in the grey glaze and wipe the base clean.
The next morning I loaded them in the kiln and programmed the glaze firing for 1200 Celsius. I go for a slowish ramp up a short soak at top temperature and then a controlled cooling for a couple of hours before the kiln switches off and cools naturally. The next morning I was able to take a few out provided I used oven gloves. I marched straight down to Tonbridge Old Fire Station, where David runs the coffee shop 65mm Coffee.
We were both really excited to see coffee in them for the first time. He made me an excellent espresso, and then poured two with added foamed milk in a fancy pour pattern. David was very happy with the cups, and I was relieved that I’d managed to produce what he wanted and not ruin his chances in the competition.
Good luck for Saturday David!