Today’s Saturday Supplement is the second in the occasional series, Meet the Roaster This time it’s Bristol-based Clifton Coffee Company, which invited me over to its warehouse, roasting and training facility at Avonmouth. Clifton Coffee Company has a very different business-model and set-up to Rave Coffee, the subject of the first “Meet the Roaster”, although both roast a similar volume of coffee. As well as in-house roasting, Clifton has its finger in a number of other (coffee-related) pies, including equipment supply (espresso machines, grinders and boilers), engineering support and training in a dedicated training suite.
My visit was also the first time that I have attended any formal coffee cupping (although as formal coffee cuppings go, this was pretty informal). As part of the normal quality-control procedures, the recent output (all filter coffee) was being cupped during the afternoon and Andy, my host for the day, had invited me to join in. For the record there were three Central American single-origin beans (Guatemalan, Finca la Bolsa; Nicaraguan, Finca la Argentina; and a Costa Rican; I think!) along with three more single-origins from Africa (Kenyan, Gatomboya AB; Rwandan, BUF Café Nyarusia; Ethiopian, Shakiso Sidamo).
You can find out how I got on after the gallery.
Clifton Coffee Company started life using contract-roasters. If, like me, you’ve not come across the term before, a contract-roaster will roast specifically to order for you. In my mind, it’s a half-way house between roasting yourself and buying in someone else’s coffee. With a contract-roaster, you have the flexibility to roast what you want, but without having to invest in a dedicated roaster and the facilities that go with it. The flipside is a loss of control since you’re not actually roasting (coffee) yourself.
Of course, the next logical step is to do your own roasting, the route that Clifton has taken, culminating in the purchase, in May 2013, of a 12kg Diedrich roaster from the USA. Since then, Clifton’s seen its roasting increase ten-fold, with plans to bring even more roasting in-house. There are even tentative plans to invest in a larger roaster.
Whereas some specialist roasters have made their names by employing specific roasting techniques, Clifton is more focused on the green beans. The aim is to buy the right coffee, then work out how to roast it, often roasting the same coffee in several different ways (eg an espresso and filter roast).
I was there the last Friday before Christmas and was able to watch the last roast of 2013, a batch of Brazilian green beans, decaffeinated using the methyl chloride method. This is the same bean that Extract Coffee Roasters are currently using and which I enjoyed so much at the Boston Tea Party. I was lucky enough to be given some to take home. Given that the usual complaint about decaf is that it’s bland/lacks complexity, I find that it a little sharp/fruity for my palette. It certainly packs a punch though; I’m not sure anyone could tell it’s decaffeinated from the taste alone.
Next came the cupping. If, like me, you’re new to this, there’s quite a complex process, which I’ve described in the gallery. In essence, you’re supposed to first inhale the aroma and then try the various coffees, rotating through them as they cool.
At this point, some of you are no doubt expecting detailed notes, comparing and contrasting the coffees, highlighting their subtle flavours. Sadly, you will be disappointed, partly because I didn’t take any notes and partly because if I had, they wouldn’t have told you (or me) anything. Initially I struggled to tell the difference between any of them, although I could broadly tell that the African coffees tasted different from the Central American ones. The main thing I learnt from my first two times around the table was that my slurping technical is terrible, another of the many reasons why becoming a roaster is not a good career option for me!
However, as the coffee cooled, I began to pick out more individual flavours and notes from each of the coffees, so much so that by the end, if you’d blindfolded me, I might have been able to tell that each coffee was different from the others! For the record, my favourites were the Kenyan (Gatomboya AB) and Ethiopian (Shakiso Sidamo), both of which I got to take home with me (with thanks to Andy for the free samples).
I look forward to seeing where the Clifton Coffee Company goes during 2014 as it expands its roasting.
|C2, ISLAND TRADE PARK • BRISTOW BROADWAY • AVONMOUTH • BRISTOL • BS11 9FB|
|www.cliftoncoffee.co.uk||+44 (0) 8452 606 706|
If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, check out the rest of Bristol’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Bristol.
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