I started this series of articles, taken from my feature in Issue 6 of Caffeine Magazine, with one established player in Newcastle’s coffee scene (Pumphrey’s Coffee). So it seems appropriate to end it with another, Flat Caps Coffee, run by the ever-affable Joe Meagher, ex-banker turned purveyor of fine coffee.
When Joe left banking to become his own boss, he chose coffee as his natural outlet. Initially considering a coffee cart, he quickly realised that there was no consensus must-visit coffee shop in Newcastle. Spotting a gap in the market, Flat Caps Coffee was born. For a long time Joe was a one-man band, but recently he has taken on what he terms “an apprentice” with the view to being able to take the odd day off without having to close the shop!
Flat Caps Coffee will celebrate its fourth birthday in August, making it something of an established player in Newcastle’s fledging speciality coffee scene. I spent a very happy hour perched on a stool at the counter chatting coffee with Joe (who disappointingly wasn’t wearing his trademark flat cap) pausing only while Joe served his customers.
You can find out what Joe had to say after the gallery (which is from my original visit to Flat Caps Coffee).
There are some who credit Joe with kick-starting the whole local coffee revolution, which has seen Newcastle go from zero speciality coffee shops in 2010 to four and counting. However, Joe quickly discounts this:
“It’s a general wave towards good quality that was present anyway. Out of the coffee shops that we’ve talked about [in these articles], I was the first one that opened, but the others would still be here regardless.”
Joe’s keen to see more speciality coffee shops opening up. Like everyone else I met in Newcastle, Joe doesn’t see other speciality coffee shops as competition. Instead he views them as a community, building and expending the market for quality coffee.
Joe’s also keen on competitions, having reached the finals of the UK Barista Championships last year and qualified again this year. His ultimate goal is for multiple Newcastle baristas to make it to the finals and, within the next five years, for the Champion to come from Newcastle. Whether that’s Joe or someone else is less important to Joe than the message it sends to the rest of the country about Newcastle’s coffee scene. Newcastle pride again.
Ever the perfectionist, Joe is always changing things, a constant theme with everyone I’ve met in the business. Since my first visit to Flat Caps Coffee, Joe’s completely redecorated the shop and replaced his V60 pour-over filters with Kalita drippers. However, that pales in significance compared to the cumulative changes since he opened, which have seen Joe replace his espresso machine and switch suppliers to Staffordshire’s Has Bean. I asked why Has Bean rather than a local roaster, such as Pumphrey’s, which Joe started out with:
“I do get coffees in from everywhere, so I have been getting some in [from Pumphrey’s], especially Pumphrey’s Coffee of the Month, which is where they have a new coffee I haven’t tasted before. What I like about Has Bean is that there is constantly new coffee, the quality is outstanding and there’s no-one else selling it in Newcastle city centre.”
By switching to Has Bean, Joe can provide a wide variety of coffee, changing what he offers on a regular basis. He buys in small batches, aiming to use the beans in what he considers the perfect window: within five to 15 days of roasting.
Of all the coffee shops I’ve visited in the last year, none’s been more closely identified with a single person than Flat Caps is with Joe. Like Ouseburn Coffee Co., Joe’s reputation has largely been built by word-of-mouth, making his achievement all the more impressive given the difficulty those not in the know have in finding the place. Unlike Pink Lane Coffee, with its high footfall opposite the station, Joe’s customers are largely regulars. Indeed, I’m convinced that people come as much to see Joe as to drink his coffee.
Joe also knows this customers, which was exemplified by one incident while I was there. A customer approached the counter while Joe was busy making a pour-over. Since Joe and I were chatting at the time, the customer patiently waited until we’d finished, at which point Joe turned to him and asked what he wanted.
“That’s good,” said Joe when he heard the answer. He picked up the freshly-made coffee before adding: “I’ve just made it for you.”
Although Newcastle pride was present everywhere I’d visited in the course of preparing for these articles, nowhere was it more apparent than in Flat Caps Coffee, which makes it the perfect place to round off this tour of the Newcastle coffee scene.
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