Clifton Coffee Company

Cupping at the Clifton Coffee Company: Guatemala Finca la Bolsa filterToday’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.

  • I was impressed with Clifton Coffee Company before I even got through the door...
  • Mind you, if you have a fleet of vans, why not use them to get your message across?
  • No space is wasted!
  • I've gathered them all together in one picture for you. Click on it for a bigger (ie readable!) version.
  • Stepping inside, I find that there's a rather large warehouse...
  • No, I mean it. It's huge! Rows and rows of stuff!
  • There's also an upstairs, where the offices are, along with this neat display of all things coffee-related.
  • Upstairs is also the home of the training suite. Here, a three-group La Spaziale...
  • There are also littler ones to practice on...
  • ... and La Marzoccos too.
  • There are also fancy grinders...
  • ... as well as VERY fancy grinders!
  • And cool tampers! No-one would notice if I borrowed that one, would they?
  • If you're tired, try these two really lovely looking sofas. All the best roasters have them!
  • Oh look! A baby coffee roaster! (sample roaster might be the term I'm looking for...)
  • There's another one downstairs in the roasting room. And an Aeropress.
  • However, this is what I've come to see. the 12kg Diedrich roaster.
  • It's loaded with green beans (decaf ones, in fact) and ready to go...
  • While that lot roasts, the previous batch is just ready to come out of the cooling pan.
  • Something about the beans cascading into the bucket (it's always a bucket) appeals to me.
  • Almost all gone now...
  • This is actually another batch, the last of the day, and actually, the year.
  • That's it, all gone. The last roast done, it's time to switch the machine off.
  • Full of beans!
  • There's also a small espresso machine. One has to admire the colour-coordinated scales!
  • We have time for a quick espresso...
  • Lovely pour.
  • Almost done.
  • Nice cup. Nice coffee.
  • Anyway, time for the cupping. There are six coffees, all recently roasted single-origin filters.
  • First hot water is poured on the grounds, which are then left to steep.
  • Andy goes round filling up the sample bowls while he explains the procedure.
  • Once the coffee has brewed, you break the surface (the crust) and take in the aroma.
  • The crust is then skimmed off and discarded. Now it's time to do the tasting.
  • Tasting is done by slurping (badly in my case). Don't forget to rinse your spoon between coffees!
  • Keep going around the coffees as they cool; this is when different tastes come to the fore.
  • Some of the coffees we cupped were samples, others were production runs, bagged up and ready to go.
  • Talking of bagging, I now know what one of these is, having been to Rave.
  • Here Will is bagging up the last of the decaf roasted that day.
  • In this instance, the machine is calibrated to deliver exactly 250 grammes into each bag.
  • And there it is, bagged up and ready to go. Andy gave me this one to take home.
  • And this one, one of my favourites from the cupping.
  • And this one, a sample of my other favourite from the cupping...
  • And this one! A bag of the E1 espresso! Looks as if Christmas has come early :-)
Photo Carousel by v4.6

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.


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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