Quarter Horse Coffee opened its Birmingham café/roastery in 2015, the roastery operating on one side of the space, the coffee shop on the other, the two separated by a waist-high counter. While this arrangement had the obvious advantage of making the roastery very visible to the customers, it had its drawbacks. As the roastery became busier, the inevitable interruptions that come from having such an open and visible roasting operation began to have an impact on productivity.
Nathan, the driving force behind Quarter Horse, decided that he need to make some major modifications to improve the roastery. However, the question was how to accommodate the disruption that the structural work would cause, which would inevitably shut both roastery and café for several weeks. Then along came COVID-19, with its enforced shutdown, giving Nathan his opportunity…
The results of the remodelling were plain for all to see when Quarter Horse reopened on the last day in July. Although it would be more accurate to say that they weren’t plain to see. Although the roastery hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s now enclosed in its own room, leaving Nathan and his team free to get on with the important business of roasting in peace.
This Coffee Spot Update focuses on the roastery, while the café has its own update, where you can find more details of the physical changes.
I first came across Surrey Hills Coffee in early 2016 at what was then Turn Fit Deli on Chapel Street in my hometown, Guildford. Although starting out as a deli, it quickly morphed into a coffee shop, supplied by Surrey Hills, which had started roasting in 2014, although Chris and Monika, the Swedish couple behind Surrey Hills, have a much longer involvement with coffee than that. In April 2016, Turn Fit decided to concentrate on its fitness business, and while Chris and Monika hadn’t planned on becoming coffee shop owners, they saw the opportunity and took over the lease to run the coffee shop themselves.
One thing led to another and by 2018, the original shop had moved to much bigger premises in Jeffries Passage. That same year, Surrey Hills opened its second coffee shop, The Pod at London Square, as well as growing a thriving, local wholesale business, supplying other cafes and retailers. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has put the coffee shops on hold, this has, ironically, given Chris and Monika a chance to catch their breath and re-focus on the heart of their business, the roastery, which I learnt more about when we caught up last weekend.
With the COVID-19 situation getting worse every day (all UK coffee shops closed as of last night), now seems like a good time for a new Meet the Roaster feature.
I first visited Ue Coffee Roasters back in 2014 for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. In those days, the roastery, on Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, was a standalone operation. These days, it’s been joined by a lovely café & kitchen, which occupies the front of the building, the roastery still in its same old spot, a large, warehouse like space at the back, which you can see through the windows behind the counter. Even better, the café’s toilets are in the roastery, so you have a legitimate excuse to nose around!
Ue Coffee made its name as the UK’s only wood-fired roaster. However, it’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, offering artisan loose-leaf tea and opening not one, but two coffee shops. While still doing much of its roasting on its bespoke, wood-fired roaster, there’s a new, gas-fired 30kg Giesen, along with a sample roaster, reflecting a new emphasis on high-scoring single lots and micro-lots. There’s also a plan for a new organic roastery in Cheltenham, due to open later this year. With all that in mind, Amanda and I had a tour with head roaster, Jon.
A well-established name in London Coffee circles, HR Higgins has been going in its current form since 1944. A family-run affair, now onto its third generation, I visited the lovely, old-fashioned store on Mayfair’s Duke Street in September, writing up the delightful basement coffee shop. Now it’s the turn of HR Higgins Coffee Man, which features in today’s Meet the Roaster as both roaster and retailer.
Whereas many modern, speciality coffee roasters have a few blends at most, along with a handful of single-origins, HR Higgins is from an era when coffee merchants carried a wide range of beans, reminding me of the likes of Soho’s Algerian Coffee Stores. HR Higgins currently has beans from 23 origins (two of which are decaffeinated), drawn from all the world’s main coffee growing regions, plus eight different blends. These are roasted anywhere from medium to very dark, and, while HR Higgins hasn’t succumbed to the modern trend of light roasts, it has been developing direct trade relationships with various coffee farmers.
If coffee’s not your thing, HR Higgins is also a tea merchant of some repute, with over 40 different loose-leaf teas available, although it received its Royal Warrant as a coffee merchant.
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed during my various visits to Japan is exploring its varied speciality coffee scene. There’s a strong, local tradition of roasting high-quality coffee, with an emphasis on darker roasts, epitomised by the likes of Maruyama Coffee and Sarutahiko Coffee Ebisu. However, in recent years, there’s an up-and-coming local scene where the emphasis is on lighter roasters led by the likes of today’s Meet the Roaster, Onibus Coffee.
Onibus Coffee is a small coffee shop/roaster chain in Tokyo. Its Nakameguro location was one of my first stops when I came to Japan in 2017, my first time in the country. Back then, it also housed the roaster, in a small space behind the counter, but with the business steadily growing, the cramped conditions were proving impractical, so Onibus relocated the roastery to a new, dedicated coffee shop/roastery in Meguro.
I visited the coffee shop in September, on the first of this year’s two trips to Japan, where I was offered a tour of the roastery, scheduled for my returned in November. I gratefully accepted, heading over to the roastery in Yakumo on my first morning in Tokyo, where head roaster, Yohei, showed me around.
Serendipity’s always played a large part in the Coffee Spot, even from its inception over seven years ago when someone said “why don’t you start a basketball blog” and I thought “a coffee blog! What an excellent idea!”. No matter how much I plan, chance discovery always plays its part and today’s Meet the Roaster is no exception
Visiting Chromatic Coffee was always part of the plan for my return to San Jose earlier this year. I’d heard great things about the coffee shop from my friend Richard on my first visit in 2017. Getting out to Santa Clara was also going to be the issue, so when Richard offered to drop me off on his way to work, I jumped at the chance.
Before I left, I had a long chat with the manager, who, on learning that I was staying in San Jose until the end of the week, suggested attending Chromatic’s public cupping, which takes place in the roastery every Thursday morning. And that led to me discovering that Chromatic’s roastery is a couple of blocks from Richard’s flat.
Naturally I went, enjoying not just the cupping, but also receiving a tour of the roastery to boot!
Welcome to what has turned into a very rare occurrence: a new Meet the Roaster feature! This is just the second of the year after Peixoto Coffee Roasters, which came out in February. Mind you, that’s an improvement on last year, when I managed just one! The focus of today’s Meet the Roaster is Walthamstow’s Wood St Coffee, which started off six years as a Sunday pop-up in Wood Street Market, run by Gareth with the support of his girlfriend, Claire. Fast-forward six years, and Wood St has gone from a one-man, once-a-week operation to a thriving coffee shop and now roastery, employing multiple staff, a real success story and a testament to the hard work of Gareth, Claire and all their staff.
Although the roastery’s output is primarily to support the coffee shop, Wood St has a growing wholesale market, as well selling direct to the consumer. You can buy 250g bags of Wood St’s coffee in the coffee shop itself, or on-line on Wood St’s website. These days, all the coffee is roasted on-site using a 5 kg Probat in a container outside Wood St’s home in the Blackhorse Workshop, although, as we’ll see, that’s a fairly recent development.
Something that I really admire about the speciality coffee industry is its commitment to improving the lot of coffee farmers by paying them a decent price (far above commodity prices) for their coffee. At the same time, the industry’s finding new ways to ensure that more of the value stays with the coffee farmers/producers. Perhaps one of the most exciting is the concept of farm-to-cup, also known as crop-to-cup (which has the advantage of being alliterative), where the entire value chain remains with the farmers who control every stage from production (crop) to the final drink (cup).
I’ve seen this in countries such as Vietnam (Oriberry Coffee), Thailand (Akha Ama Coffee) and China (Lanna Coffee), but the first time I saw it outside of a coffee growing region was in Arizona, when I visited Peixoto, in Chandler, southeast of Phoenix. Peixoto was set up specifically to roast and sell coffee from the family farm in Brazil, something which it’s been doing for the last four years (it celebrated its fourth birthday on 31st January). I’ve already written about Peixoto as a coffee shop: today, in this Meet the Roaster feature, I want to look at the rest of Peixoto’s operation.
A fishmonger sells fish. And an ironmonger sells iron. Therefore, a coffee monger sells coffee. Obviously. Hence the delightfully-named Coffee Monger’s Roasting Company from Lymington in Hampshire, which I first came across at the London Coffee Festival in 2016, where I came away with a bag of its Regina espresso blend. Fast forward 2½ years and, on my annual visit to the area, I was reminded of Coffee Monger’s by Jass at Lemana, who told me that people were welcome to pop by the roastery and have a cup of coffee. Which, naturally, I did.
Coffee Monger’s is a little bit out of the way on an industrial estate just north of Lymington, the unit doubling as both roastery and retail outlet/coffee shop. In similar fashion, this post will double up both as a Coffee Spot in its own right and as a Meet the Roaster feature on Coffee Monger’s. Roasting six espresso blends and a number of single-origins, you can buy any of the coffee in retail bags, plus you can pop in for an espresso, Americano or flat white/cappuccino/latte, etc, from the Rocket Espresso machine, made with whichever blend is on at the time (decaf is also available).
Carvetii, Cumbria’s Coffee Roasters, is somewhere that’s been on my radar for years, ever since I met Gareth and Angharad, the Welsh couple behind Carvetii, at the London Coffee Festival in 2014. Since, I’ve caught up with them at various coffee festivals around the country, including the Manchester Coffee Festival and, most recently, the Glasgow Coffee Festival. However, it’s taken me over three years to finally pay a visit to the Carvetii roastery in the heart of the Lake District. This delay is entirely down to me, and no reflection on the quality of their coffee, which I’ve always enjoyed.
I’ve wanted to feature Carvetii for a while, partly because it represents an object lesson in how to build a speciality coffee business in a non-speciality area from the ground up. Gareth and Angharad are also some of the most thoughtful people I’ve met in my five years of writing the Coffee Spot. Carvetii is an example of doing a few things and doing them well: there’s a seasonal espresso blend, three single-origins and a decaf. These will soon be joined by a second espresso (either a single-origin or another blend) plus the occasional experiment, designed to showcase the coffee.