I present the second of four Saturday Supplements, drawn from an extended version of my article in Issue 6 of Caffeine Magazine on the Newcastle coffee scene. Although not specifically written as part of my Meet the Roaster series, it ticks all the boxes, so I have included it as such.
In complete contrast to Pumphrey’s, the subject of my previous article in this series, today it’s the turn of new-kid-on-the-block, Ouseburn Coffee Co. OCC, as it’s known, has been around for less than two years, but has quickly established itself a reputation as a roaster of some of Newcastle’s finest coffee. Based in the sometimes-overlooked Ouseburn valley, just east of the city centre, Al, Simon, Pete and James, the men behind OCC, have created something special. All friends, who grew up in Newcastle, they gigged together in bands in their early years before going their separate ways. They returned to Newcastle two years ago and got back together, this time to create coffee rather than music.
Each of these Special Saturday Supplements can be read as a stand-alone article or the four can be read together as a coherent whole. The more astute amongst you will notice that in a radical departure from recent practice, this Saturday Supplement has come out on a Saturday! For more details, please see my recent State of the Nation(s) 2014 post.
You can read the rest of the article after the gallery.
OCC works on a division of labour. Roasting is left to Simon, who I met in the back room of the converted garage that serves as OCC’s headquarters. There’s just enough room for Simon and the bespoke 5kg Toper, which, even on the relatively cold day I was there, generates phenomenal heat in such a confined space. Simon roasts almost continuously, often producing 100kg of beans a day. Such is the pace that no sooner has one batch of lovely, light-brown beans spilled into the cooling pan than the next batch of green beans are pouring into the roaster through the massive funnel at the top.
From there it was a relief to step outside with Al, who’d just returned from a morning of delivery-runs which saw him range as far as Durham, Morpeth and Carlisle. We chatted over a lovely flat white made by James, OCC’s barista trainer, using an El Salvador single-origin bean, one of three single-origins OCC is currently roasting.
As we talked, several key points kept recurring. One was selectivity. OCC is very selective about the beans it roasts, producing just two blends to complement its single-origins which change on a seasonal basis. OCC is just as selective about who it supplies with coffee, insisting on training any new customers. As Al explained, making coffee is just as important as roasting it: if anywhere serves bad OCC coffee to its customers, this reflects badly on OCC itself. This commitment, however, took some dedication.
“We didn’t get paid for 14 months and we turned down some offers that at the time would have put some money in our pockets but in the long-term would have been disastrous. I’m not going to say that period was easy in any way. The day we were able to say ‘ok, this is now full-time’ was amazing. Those early stages are really crucial and again it comes into reputation. If we’d signed up to those on-going contracts, it would now be so hard to go back and change it.
“We’ve been quite conscious to control where the coffee goes because ultimately that is how we’re perceived. In the first instance we supplied the places we like to go ourselves, because we knew that’s where our immediate customer base is.”
OCC’s sales strategy is similarly uncompromising and direct. Rather than rely on advertising, they get out there (witness Al making deliveries in person that morning) and meet their customers. You’ll also find OCC at events and street markets, making, serving and selling coffee. OCC lets its coffee and its customers do the talking, ultimately spreading its reputation by word-of-mouth.
Other key points Al kept coming back to echoed what I’d heard at Pumphrey’s: integrity and trust. As Al pointed out, the supply chain is actually quite short, from farmer to green-bean importer to OCC, then, perhaps via a café, to the customer. By keeping that chain as short as possible, OCC can ensure the integrity of the coffee and its customers can trust the quality (and provenance) of the coffee.
It’s this desire to shorten the chain that led OCC to the logical conclusion that the next step was to open its own coffee shop, allowing direct control the quality of the coffee served to the end-customer. This came to fruition in June, 2014, with the opening of the Harvest Canteen in Jesmond, not far from the roastery.
|FOUNDRY LANE STUDIOS • FOUNDRY LANE • NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE • NE6 1LH|
|www.ouseburncoffee.co.uk||+44 (0) 7572 138729|
|Monday||09:00 – 17:00||Roaster||Ouseburn Coffee Co.|
|Tuesday||09:00 – 17:00||Seating||Table Outside|
|Wednesday||09:00 – 17:00||Food||No|
|Thursday||09:00 – 17:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||09:00 – 17:00||Cards||Mastercard, Visa|
|Chain||No||Visits||31st October 2013|
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