Meet the Roaster: Catalyst

A bag of the Ethiopia Chelelektu from Catalyst Coffee Roasters, complete with tasting notes and details of the coffee and the farm.In the Coffee Spot’s early days, central London had a handful of coffee shop/roasters, with the likes of TAP, Caravan and Ozone all roasting, then serving, coffee on the premises. However, rising rents, along with expanding demand, led to roasteries moving to bigger/cheaper premises in outer London: of the three examples mentioned, only Ozone still roasts in its original location. Therefore, when the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, coffee shop/roaster Catalyst, opened in Holborn in late 2016, it was already bucking the trend, something which continues to this day.

I remember the buzz its opening generated, when it was only a coffee shop, the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. Before long, the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement was up and running, and Catalyst hasn’t looked back, although it took me until last month before I managed to visit, when I wrote up Catalyst as a coffee shop.

Today it’s the turn of Catalyst the roaster. It has an impressive output, with a retail espresso blend and multiple single-origins, with various options on espresso and filter. Even COVID-19 can’t slow it down, Catalyst seeing a large boost in its direct-to-consumer sales through its website!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Catalyst, in the October gloom, shrouded in scaffolding on Grays Inn Road.
  • The door is on the corner. Let's go in.
  • Catalyst is a lovely coffee shop, but that's not why we're here today.
  • There's a series of glass windows in the floor at the front of Catalyst...
  • ... through which you can see the roaster, which is why we've come.
  • But how to get there? The answer is off to the right, where you'll find the stairs...
  • ... which lead to the basement.
  • And here it is! Catalyst's 12 kg Diedrich roaster.
  • You can drink the coffee upstairs in Catalyst...
  • ... where you have a choice of espresso, batch brew or pour-over, with...
  • ... the current espresso choices denoted by the bags in front of each grinder.
  • Meanwhile, the left-hand end of the counter is the domain of the filter coffee.
  • Alternatively, you can buy retail bags to take home with you.
  • There's quite a selection in store, and even more on-line at the Catalyst web shop.
Catalyst, in the October gloom, shrouded in scaffolding on Grays Inn Road.1 The door is on the corner. Let's go in.2 Catalyst is a lovely coffee shop, but that's not why we're here today.3 There's a series of glass windows in the floor at the front of Catalyst...4 ... through which you can see the roaster, which is why we've come.5 But how to get there? The answer is off to the right, where you'll find the stairs...6 ... which lead to the basement.7 And here it is! Catalyst's 12 kg Diedrich roaster.8 You can drink the coffee upstairs in Catalyst...9 ... where you have a choice of espresso, batch brew or pour-over, with...10 ... the current espresso choices denoted by the bags in front of each grinder.11 Meanwhile, the left-hand end of the counter is the domain of the filter coffee.12 Alternatively, you can buy retail bags to take home with you.13 There's quite a selection in store, and even more on-line at the Catalyst web shop.14
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Catalyst is on Grays Inn Road, occupying a bright, corner spot at the junction with Baldwin’s Gardens. As a coffee shop, it’s lovely, but even better is the basement. Accessed via stairs that start in the front, right-hand corner, you’ll find both kitchen and roastery down here, although they’re sadly off-limits to the public. The good news is that Catalyst also has a pair of toilets down here, so you have a ready-made excuse to wander down, where you’ll get a good view of the roaster from the foot of the stairs.

Alternatively, there are a series of five glass panels in the floor at the front of Catalyst, located directly above the roaster. I’ve been in a quite a few coffee shop/roasteries in my time and am used to seeing the roaster on the other side of a counter or through a windows, but this is the first time I’ve ever been able to sit on top of one!

When Catalyst started roasting in 2017, it adopted the omni-roast principle, where each coffee was roasted with a single roast profile, ostensibly independent of preparation method. However, while this worked well in the shop, feedback from home customers led Catalyst to switch back to a more traditional method of roasting some beans specifically for filter and others for pour-over, a switch I’ve seen several other roasters make.

In principle, omni-roasting is all about roasting each specific coffee to bring out the best flavours it has to offer. While I empathise with this, in practice, different coffee preparation methods extract flavours differently, hence the more traditional roast profiles, which aim to maximise a coffee’s taste for a specific preparation method. In reality, this tends to come down to two roast profiles, one for espresso, and one for filter, which is the route Catalyst has taken.

Although it only serves single-origins in the coffee shop, Catalyst roasts an espresso blend for retail sale, although with multiple single-origins from around the world. At the time of writing, there are 12 different coffees available on the Catalyst website, predominantly from Central and South America, plus Africa, where Ethiopia is represented by four different coffees (two naturals, one washed and one honey process).

One of the twelve is a sugar cane decaf from Colombia and two are direct trade, a Finca La Lomita from Colombia and perhaps the most interesting of all, a Taiwanese Gesha, which I wrote about when I did Catalyst’s Coffee Spot. Direct trade, where Catalyst works directly with the producers, is something that Catalyst is looking to do more of in the future.

It’s not just coffee though. Catalyst also sells a hot sauce, coffee sriracha, made with Catalyst coffee and chillies, as well as olives and olive oil imported from a convent in Greece. There’s also a wide range of coffee equipment and, in keeping with Catalyst’s evening alter-ego as a bar, a small selection of wine.

Catalyst used to open on both Thursday and Friday evenings, but the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that this has been reduced to just Fridays for now. On the plus side, following its enforced closure in late March, Catalyst saw a big uptake in retail sales, with its regulars buying coffee for home. It did so well that whereas it used to roast once a week, demand is such that the roaster is in action two or somethings three times a week!


November 2020: Note that Catalyst is currently closed due to Government COVID-19 restrictions, although you can still order coffee (and more) online.

48 GRAYS INN ROAD • HOLBORN • LONDON • WC1X 8LT
https://catalyst.cafe
Monday 08:00 – 17:00 Roaster Catalyst (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 17:00 Seating Table, Window-bars, Counter; Benches (outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 17:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 22:00 Payment Card Only
Saturday CLOSED Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday CLOSED Power Limited
Chain No Visits 30th October 2020

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to London for more great Coffee Spots.


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  1. Pingback: Catalyst | Brian's Coffee Spot

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