We take pride in seeing our coffee served in a variety of destinations not just in London, but all over the UK and indeed the world. One such place is Pot Kettle Black, or PKB as it's more commonly known.
Since they opened in 2014, the team have been serving Workshop Coffee in the beautiful Victorian surrounds of their coffee shop in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.
Jon Wilkin, one of the Founders of PKB, sat down with us to offer an insight into the past three years and hint at what might be on the horizon in the next three.
So, how did it all begin?
Our story began through the misfortune of injury. Myself and (PKB Co-Founder) Mark are professional rugby players. Mark returned from a stint playing rugby in Sydney and was overwhelmed by the quality and choice of independent speciality coffee operations over there. He was so passionate about the lack of quality in this area in the North-West that we began to learn, listen and love the beauty of great coffee.
At this point Mark suffered a career-threatening injury to his knee and that was probably the catalyst PKB's inception. A year of sampling the market, planning and understanding the craft of coffee came next and, as fortune or misfortune would have it, I then became badly injured.
We acquired a site and I project managed the build whilst Mark was back on the pitch. That year, in October 2014, we won a huge rugby competition and PKB Barton Arcade opened its doors.
We held our breath and waited for the customers. I have never been more nervous.
What came before coffee for you?
Aside from our sporting careers, myself and Mark bonded over great design, food, wine and a social life that was populated by events attached to these things. We are both very social guys and central to everything we did prior to PKB was about enjoying ourselves and refining our tastes; that is essentially what we still do now but with what is probably a more commercial approach.
I had some experience of opening my own business and had made lots of mistakes, too, which really helped us in the early stages I think. We both have very similar interests and enjoy fine dining as much as a few drinks. We just love great things and the many forms those great things can take.
What sets PKB apart?
Our location and the quality of what we put out. We're set in a beautiful Victorian Arcade in Central Manchester. After the Arndale bomb in the city, most glass buildings in the area were damaged beyond repair but the arcade survived and, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Manchester -- ornate iron balconies, huge glass domes and a level of design that its becoming increasingly rare to find.
We have the most prominent site within the arcade and sit alongside an amazing gents Barbers, Spanish Deli and clothes shop. There’s a great little vibe in the arcade and its blossomed since we took a punt on what had previously been a relatively unsuccessful space.
The arcade is now a destination for PKB customers and tourists alike. I honestly believe the quality of our coffee and brunch is the highest in Manchester. There are some excellent places to eat and drink in the city, but we've recently been voted the best Coffee Shop/Tea Room in the 2016 Food and Drink awards. That’s all down to the amazing coffee and food we serve and the quality of the products we use.
Quite simply good things in one end and minimal processes between mean we can bring great products to the table.
What led you to Workshop Coffee?
We looked around for 18 months and didn’t taste an espresso with so much depth of flavour and that;s true of every iteration we've had since. We love the coffee and it’s become an amazing part of our business. As we’ve grown, we have continually revisited how to get the best out of the beans you guys deliver through e-mails, phone calls and training sessions.
It’s a continual process.
We're passionate about delivering speciality coffee to people in unusual locations. We're not based in an offbeat location or in an area surrounded by similar industries. We are slap-bang in the middle of commercial chain land. We have 1 litre caramel macchiatos to our left and hot, floppy sandwiches to our right. We want to grow and present an alternative to the occasionally soulless British high street.
Barton Arcade has taught us that location is crucial. We have just about agreed to launch our second site and we couldn’t be more excited about where it is. I can’t give too much away at this stage, but it's Manchester again and we just can’t wait to give the people in that area the PKB experience.
Our biggest challenge remains getting Marks music off the playlist.
14 Barton Arcade, Deansgate, Manchester. M3 2BW
Weekdays: 8:00am – 7:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Sunday: 10:00am - 5:00pm
This February we returned to El Salvador with our good friends at Nordic Approach to visit producers with whom we’ve been working with for five consecutive seasons. First on our itinerary was a visit to see Jose Antonio and Andreas Salaverria at their mill, Las Cruces, up in the Santa Ana region of El Salvador, along the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range.
After years of producers in Central America battling with leaf rust, it was fantastic to see their two main estates, Finca Santa Rita and Finca San Francisco, looking green, lush and healthy. By maintaining healthy trees and root stocks with ingenious pruning techniques and shade management, the brothers work with their farm managers and teams of highly trained, well-incentivised pickers to produce truckloads of beautifully uniform and ripe cherry. They process the fruit in a multitude of different ways, from full naturals, honeys and pulped naturals, to washed and soaked preparations, and by working cleanly and carefully they're able to offer a wide range of unique and interesting flavour profiles.
Through proper drying the coffees always hold up fantastically well, tasting sweet and layered even after a year has elapsed from harvesting -- somewhat remarkable for coffees from El Salvador. The final stages of quality refinement in the dry mill utilise density and colour sorters, meaning that their coffees are a joy to work with in the roastery as they are so clean and uniform.
Jose Antonio is the agronomist at Las Cruces, and Andreas the cupper. Having the two of them present in their cupping lab along with their quality control team, Raoul and Rosio, managing the samples and turning the tables offers a chance for informed discussion and feedback in every aspect from seed to cup, which for us thoroughly enriches the enjoyment of a cup of coffee.
Something we felt very privileged to be a part of was cupping their ‘Variety Garden’. The table was made up of twenty or so different varieties of coffee cherries grown in similar conditions on one of their farms, they're roasted and prepared in the same way allowing us to really hone in on what flavour traits are brought about via the coffee’s genetics, and what suits their soil and microclimate.
Alongside some fantastic soaked lots and a handful of really unique honey processed coffees, we tasted some superb naturals, lovely washed lots and some bizarre and fun cups of SL28 and Geisha Rojo from the brothers.
As well as seeing the JASAL group in Santa Ana we had to travel to Usulután to see Gilberto Baraona at Los Pirineos. Somewhat of a coffee celebrity, Gilberto is animated and commands the room with an infectious personality and unrivalled energy.
Last year it took us 45 minutes to drive from the closest petrol station up to the Los Pirineos processing mill (a short commute compared to the two days it took his grandfather by ox 60 years ago), but it was all of seven minutes this year thanks to the new road that Gilberto had built by using lots and lots of dynamite. He spoke animatedly about his plans for the farm, increasing efficiency, yields, flavour and all sorts of weird and wonderful new projects whilst we were squeezed in the back of an ATV getting an ‘off road back massage’.
In a completely different manner to the Salaverrias, Gilberto is tackling rust by replanting whole new areas of his farms and has averaged 100,000 trees each year over the last few years. 2016 saw him put 500,000 new seedlings from his nursery into the ground, a staggering number of new trees, predominantly of the Pacamara variety, in an attempt to start fresh with healthy plants.
Witnessing the many drying beds of honey processed coffee at Los Pirineos is quite incredible. By manipulating the methods of turning the sticky parchment over in the sun or in the shade, the workers are able to create cleaner or darker hues of fermenting sugars, which results in very distinctly white, yellow, red or ‘black’ honey processed coffee. It's often the case that in the cup this is not so tightly correlated with ‘funkiness’ or ‘processing flavour’; some white honeys can be very funky and some red honeys impeccably clean. The sheer volume of microlots being prepared in unique manners under such scrutiny is very impressive, and we are looking forward to receiving samples from this year’s harvest.
What with growing coffee at some of the highest altitudes in the region we were a little too early to taste anything from the main portion of this year’s harvest. Whilst the higher altitude results in slower fruit maturation (making for a more complex flavour in your cup) it also means that Gilberto’s crops are under more threat from thieves compared to his neighbours. They will be the last thing left to steal once everyone else is done picking and processing, and so we witnessed a lot of security patrolling his precious crops.
Visiting the two very different producers was both informative and insightful, but without the company of Nordic Approach many questions would have been left unasked and unanswered. Morten is a fantastic person to be around when talking to producers and when cupping, and through osmosis and proximity we absorbed a lot of information we were more than eager to return with and share with our inquisitive Baristas and Bar Backs.
Our El Salvadorean options from this season will be arriving in Vyner St. in the coming weeks and months and we'll be updating you on their progress as we profile them ready for release.
Rest assured, there will be some delicious coffees coming your way.
In September 2015, Indigo Coffee and Gelato, complete with a slick, clean interior and a mélange of weird and wonderful Gelato varieties, popped up in the Belfast’s university area to become the latest addition to the city’s fast-evolving coffee scene. We caught up with owner Ryan Richards to get a better understanding of how Indigo came to be.
Where did your journey into coffee begin?
Like a lot of people in Belfast, a trip to Established a couple of months after they opened was my first specialty coffee experience. Before that I have to admit that I was quite partial to an Iced Caramel Macchiato.
Whilst at university, I started working in a small ice cream café where they had an old Conti espresso machine which barely got used. I'd seen some latte art videos on YouTube and I caught the coffee bug.
I owe that shop a lot of milk.
Tell us about how Indigo came to be.
I had initially opened Indigo with my friend Michael. I'd just finished University in 2015, and we started talking about opening a coffee shop. We planned everything out on paper in a month, but there is only so much planning you can do.
It got to the point where we just had to take the risk and go for it. We found a quirky little shop space in the student area of Belfast. We did all the construction and plumbing between family and friends in the space of couple of months and opened on 22nd September 2015.
Why ice cream?
We knew we needed something different that was going to make us stand out. Gelato was also something we could really experiment with, just as much as coffee. The day we opened we didn't have a gelato recipe, and now – one year on – we've made some pretty weird and wonderful flavours: sweet potato & marshmallow, spinach choc-chip and smokey bacon, to name a few.
How do you feel the Northern Irish coffee scene is changing and where do you sit in that?
Northern Ireland has really caught on to speciality coffee very quickly. The growth in interest and demand even in the year we've been open has been amazing. There’s been spurt of new shops, all of them bringing a unique coffee experience. It's been fun chatting with customers and visiting the other coffee shops in the area on days off. There is quite a community of coffee lovers being cultivated in this little corner of Ireland.
The best part is people here aren’t afraid to be bold and try new things. From the introduction of specialty coffee to Northern Ireland, to local roasters advancing, to coffee paired with gelato, we are very much spoilt for choice here. In turn, people respect that boldness which breeds a loyal base of customers, especially at Indigo.
How has Indigo's approach to coffee adapted over time?
The move from renting our coffee equipment and purchasing our own has given us freedom to experiment with different roasters. We have always found great consistency and interesting, well-rounded flavour profiles coming from Workshop. The day we started using Hunkute Espresso, we saw our customers get very excited about the change in flavour. That’s what we want to be able to offer our customers – an opportunity to move past their typical commuter coffee and to try something unique and exciting with every visit. Workshop’s always been able to provide that for us, whilst at the same time being accessible to those just beginning to fall in love with coffee.
What's next for Indigo?
This year we want to embrace and enjoy what we have managed to create in the past year and a bit, keep building on the Indigo vision, allowing that to grow with us. A strategy day away to London and a visit to a few Workshop locations are also no doubt on the cards.
Weekdays: 8:00am – 6:00pm
Weekend: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Along with much of the UK, we'll be closing our doors for a few short days over the festive period to allow our hard-working teams some well-deserved rest.
However, we will be opening our doors and firing up the roaster on a number of days through the Christmas period. We are revising our opening times though, so be sure to double-check if you intend on visiting or placing an order:
Sat 24/12 - Mon 26/12 - Closed
Tue 27/12 - Sat 31/12 - 9:00am - 4:00pm
Sun 01/01 - Closed
Mon 02/01 - 9:00am - 4:00pm
Tue 03/01 - Normal Hours Resume
MARYLEBONE & FITZROVIA COFFEEBARS
Sat 24/12 - 9:00am - 6:00pm
Sun 25/12 - Mon 26/01 - Closed
Tue 27/12 - Sat 31/12 - 9:00am - 6:00pm
Sun 01/01 - Closed
Mon 02/01 - 9:00am - 6:00pm
Tue 03/01 - Normal Hours Resume
Fri 23/12 - 7:00am - 5:00pm
Sat 24/12 - Mon 02/01 - Closed
Tue 03/01 - Normal Hours Resume
Mon 26/12 - Tue 27/12 - Closed
Wed 28/12 - Roasting & Shipping Subscription orders
Thu 29/12- Roasting & Shipping Online Shop orders
Fri 30/12 - Mon 02/01- Closed
Tue 03/01 - Roasting & Shipping resume as normal
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2017.
The era of the self-flagellating barista is over.
Overly obtuse and complicated brewing procedures that were once entertaining and exciting are now simply annoying. “There are no points for difficulty in coffee”. What really matters is using fantastic coffee and thoroughly enjoying the cups that you brew.
To that end we’ve been on the hunt for an automatic filter coffee brewer that we aren’t just happy to recommend, but wholeheartedly endorse, stock and sell to our customers.
When we first dipped our toes into the world of auto-brewers we knew that we had to do a lot of experimenting. Upon testing a wide range of drip coffee makers we were scoring the machines in the following categories:
We looked at how comfortable and easy it is to engage with the machine, in preparing a pot, brewing and cleaning down, assessing the tactile qualities of the materials as well as sturdiness.
Assessing whether the machine is able to get the water up to an adequate brewing temperature, how quickly it does so and how stable it remains throughout the brewing process
We trialled different recipes and techniques with each brewer, playing every role from skilled barista to someone half-asleep and feeling lazy in the morning. We rinsed filter papers, agitated as necessary and levelled the coffee bed for a more involved brewing procedure, but also trialled simply adding coffee and water by eye, with no intervention during the brewing process. Our thoughts behind these tests were that the better brewer would be the one that can adequately extract the coffee in a range of different scenarios. Using a refractometer we could check which machine brewed a stronger cup when using the same dose of coffee and water, thus informing us as to the more efficient option.
It wouldn’t do to simply test the brewers once, so we brewed pot after pot of a wide range of coffees using water of varying hardness to see how the brewers coped in multiple scenarios.
Good things come to those who wait, but you can’t deny that your first cup in the morning can’t arrive quickly enough. Given that the machines will be popular in offices and cafes as well as in the home we wanted to make sure we selected a brewer that doesn’t take an age to produce a pot.
You can’t overlook the importance of a slick looking machine. The footprint of the machine as well as the choice and finish of materials needs to lead to a pleasing aesthetic.
Value for Money:
There are some super cheap and some crazy expensive automatic brewers out there. It was important to us to find something with good build quality but not cost the earth, as the more people that can enjoy our coffee, the better.
Obviously this relies on the brewer delivering well on the above criteria, but we made sure to taste, taste and taste again to ensure the brewer reliably produces something utterly delicious.
Our Winner: The Technivorm Moccamaster
The Moccamaster ticked every box for us, and we’ve since been using it to brew fresh pots every day in the Workshop Coffee roastery as an extension of our roasted coffee QC program (and to perk the team up during a day’s roasting and packing).
A lesson in utilitarian, industrial aesthetic and a great example of quality manufacturing, the machine is hand-built in the Netherlands and comes with a 5 year manufacturer’s warranty.
We were able to brew well extracted pots of coffee with minimal intervention, and have put together this concise brewing guide for those wanting to get the best out of their investment.
One of the first bars to open in the redeveloped Northern Quarter, Common has been a staple of the area since 2004. In the words of General Manager, Jonny, “the area had a lot of residents but nowhere to drink and hang out. Common wasn’t trying to be a city bar but just a nice, reliable neighbourhood place to drink”.
A lot has changed in the last twelve years. The Northern Quarter has flourished and, during that time, Common has been torn down and rebuilt with an expansion and a refined offering.
“We bought more space, expanded the seating area… we completely ripped it apart and started again. We originally set it up on a tight budget — it was rough and ready, you know? We just kind of outgrew it and we couldn’t keep up with demand. We wanted something more efficient, to allow us to carry on serving food and drink to a high standard”.
The revamp wasn’t popular with everyone, but Jonny is confident that they have retained most of their regulars and won back most of the people they lost.
“Everyone who was vocally hating it, they started coming back once they saw it was the same team, the same philosophy and that we’ve just grown up a bit.”
This is a regular theme in conversations with café owners and operators; adapt or die. Lots of cafés that outgrow themselves don’t update or aren’t able to, for one reason or another. Aside from how customers may feel about this, it can cause real strain amongst staff members who are working in inefficient ways or with outdated equipment, and it can negatively impact the quality of the offering. So what was it about the original Common that, ten years later, was dragging its heels?
“It’s the same thing anyone in the Northern Quarter will tell you: we get incredibly, incredibly busy in very concentrated times, so it’s hard to maintain standards and quality in those conditions. We always want to keep ahead with new ideas, new and exciting things, not just rest on our laurels. It’s not pretentious though, we find stuff we like and we’re excited so we get behind it, and we want to share that”.
Common is in a constant battle to stay relevant to their neighbourhood, but it’s a labour of love and it allows Jonny and his team a certain amount of freedom to try to jump ahead of the curve. “We feel we have to take risks. We tore the place down and built it back up. You know, people don’t like change, but we felt we had to.”
Common 2.0 is ambitious without over-reaching. The offering is broad yet considered, and the team is keeping up with the changing demands and tastes of the neighbourhood whilst showcasing what they themselves enjoy, rather than bowing blindly to gentrification. Common hasn’t sold out. It’s grown up. There is utilitarian yet comfortable furniture, it’s light and airy (even more so in the Summer as some of the outer walls retract and open up the space), but it’s lively. The decor may be slightly Scandi-chic, but the buzzing atmosphere is full on Manchester - the pebbledash bar in the centre is a nice nod to Common’s roots, and a wink that lets you know you’re welcome.
Common has also refined the food offering (the salt and pepper squid and Korean fried chicken are great bar snacks), but they are still serving up their crowd-pleasing burgers and sandwiches. “We’re probably most famous for our burgers, the maple bacon burger is the most popular”, says Jonny.
The coffee scene in Manchester has grown tremendously in recent years, with events such as The Manchester Coffee Festival (formerly Cup North) putting Northern roasters and cafés on the map, and allowing local businesses access to roasters from other areas. “Since we re-opened we’ve seen much more of a push on day trade. The coffee side has really taken off, we’ve invested a lot in that and it’s blown up. Our coffee sales are up by about 400%.
When we visited we drank a bright and sweet brew of Marimira AA, a Kenyan coffee currently in our range. “People come down to try the latest filter, and we keep it on constant rotation. The people who like it get into it, they come back and try the different beans. The staff too — they love the filter.”
Originally coming from a craft beer background, the team at Common had a love of and appreciation for good coffee, but none of its staff were trained baristas. “We worked closely with friends from other cafes like North Tea Power and Idle Hands. They did some training with us and got the staff on board. It’s the same with anything we buy: wine, beer, gin — we apply the same thought behind it all in terms of taste.”.
It’s important to look at venues like Common who take stock of their position, decide what can be achieved, and then reach for it. In a time when so many new openings seem to be guided by the same rulebook, adhering to an accepted aesthetic, Common are “still here, still pushing forward. That’s about it really”. If you’re in the Manchester area you can drop by Common any day except Monday, and check out their sister venues Port Street Beer House, The Beagle, and recent addition The Pilcrow, close to Victoria train station. The latter is a pub built by hand with help from the local community in the NOMA neighbourhood, operated by All Our Yesterdays, a new partnership between Common owner Jonathan Heyes and Paul Jones, the co-founder of Cloudwater Brew Co.
Address: 39 Edge St, Manchester M4 1HW
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we moved our Production Department to Bethnal Green. Almost ten months of planning, planning, more planning, building, installing, commissioning and finally profiling coffees on the new machine took place before we packed our things from the back of our Clerkenwell Cafe, headed East and continued work afresh out of the new production space.
There were some setbacks along the way that we now look back and laugh at, but at the time they were all issues that bugged us in one way or another. The motors on the roaster turning backwards when we first started roasting, the leaky ceiling combatted by using an umbrella whilst at the P25, the combination lockers that nobody had a code for and the intermittent cut-outs of the gas supply before we installed a fatter gas pipe and reduced our link to the fire alarms of the upstairs flats - it just wouldn’t do to have the gas cut off every time our new neighbours burnt their toast.
Still, miraculously, we set up roast recipes for our coffee range, moved everything, including the team, over a single weekend and didn’t miss a single production day. We’re so proud of the fact we’ve never missed a production day in coming on 6 years of roasting; there's no secret, it’s just down to the incredibly hard work the team does in maintaining the equipment to such a high degree each week.
The new venue means suddenly we're in a position to do things we weren’t able to in Clerkenwell, due to the limiting factor of space. Previous plans have been realised and talk has become action as we've bought pieces of equipment, implementing new protocols that help us in our pursuit of ever better coffee.
Improved Green Coffee Program:
As always, our roasting is guided by three Cs: careful, considered and consistent. We aim to procure the most delicious and interesting green coffee we can and doing it justice in roasting is an ongoing challenge. We wanted to not just improve the roasting itself, but tighten up other areas that impact the roasting process and ultimately the cup.
Something we'd been doing for a while in Clerkenwell was the tagging of every bag of green coffee upon arrival into the roastery before logging a moisture reading using our BeanPro. This has continued in Vyner St., but we added the use of a UV light which we shine on every new coffee coming into the inventory. This helps scan for any mould or other issues that can come about from poor drying or transit of green coffee and allows us to take the necessary steps if something comes up.
Before a test roast is turned and profiling even thought about, we turn a small sample roast in the Ikawa to assess how a particular coffee has travelled. Once cupped, only then do we put together a more informed roasting plan.
When a release date for a particular coffee is scheduled, we ensure the beans spend at least three days acclimatising in our fully insulated green coffee room, fitted out with a temperature control unit and humidifier so the coffee is stable and stored as optimally as we can. As we charge a batch into the roaster finally we don’t have to worry about the temperature fluctuations such as we endured at Clerkenwell. Being able to adapt to this swing is a testament to an experienced hand, but ask any roaster and they’d rather they didn't have this obstacle to overcome at any point. Wrestling with a roast because it's too hot or too cold is no fun, believe me.
New Burner Technology:
Upgrading to a larger machine meant not just more capacity, but vastly better technology. Rather than the manual gas dial of the P12, reading from 1 to 6 and controlling what was essentially a grill burner, the P25 has a touchpad giving us linear control, incrementally increasing or decreasing our gas supply, to what can only be described as a jet engine, 1% at a time. This accuracy makes control of the roast process so much easier, and also facilitates clearer communication across the roasting team.
The power of the new machine means we’re able to fully develop large batches in a shorter time than we previously could. One benefit of being able to roast in a faster and punchier manner is that we’re able to better showcase coffees with prominent fruit and acidity. Since we love coffees of that type, it’s great we’re able to get the best out of them now, more than ever before in our history. We’re talking 22kg of green coffee properly developed, balanced and clean in around 9 minutes; our old P12 could only dream of such numbers.
More Frequent and Focussed QC Sessions:
The assessment of our roasted coffee now takes place in even greater detail too. As normal each batch is weighed once out of the cooling tray, ensuring the coffee has lost enough mass to be brittle enough to properly extract when brewing, but we now also measure the colour of roasted coffee using a ColorTrack. Initially helping profile a coffee, we estimate a rough ballpark colour figure to aim for with test roasts, whilst during production it gives us a reliable, objective measurement that allows us to see if certain batches could taste different from others, allowing us to pull potentially blown roasts from the packing line for further analysis.
As well as these quantitative measures we now spend more time on the qualitative side of things too. This means tasting. Lots of tasting. Our huge cupping table is in use most days along with our espresso QC machine, which means we adapt and tweak our roast recipes more frequently as we continually hone in on the sweet spot of every coffee in our range. Coupled with brewing loads of fresh pots using our MoccaMaster during the day, we’re closing a much tighter feedback loop and involving the entire team in the pursuit of tastier coffee.
Some night's, sleep is hard to come by though.
A Larger Team:
We left Clerkenwell with a team of five based permanently in the Roastery; that's grown to eleven staff operating in the Roastery on Vyner Street. In part due to the creation of a dedicated training and wholesale space on site, this means we have all the more resource at hand to test, taste and assess our coffees with a much wider range of palates and brewing expertise.
However, it does mean your arms get tired from grinding pepper into soup for eleven or you get teary eyed chopping a whole bag of onions for a stew, but divvying the cooking and washing up amongst the team does mean we get to spend a little quality time together over wholesome lunches each day.
Our Head Roaster, Dan, now shares the majority of roasting with the newest production roaster, Roosa. Starting as a Production Assistant in Clerkenwell, she graduated to Roaster in Vyner St. and becomes the first female to stand behind the roaster for Workshop.
Meanwhile, Kohtaro has progressed from Bar Back to Barista, on to Production Assistant and then Roaster, he's now settling into his position as Roastery Manager, ensuring orders are met each day and shipped out on time.
I [Richard] spend a lot less time at the roaster, instead sharing the responsibility of travelling to source green coffee, pushing product development and ensuring high attention to detail is observed in all aspects of training and QC programs with James B. Sam meanwhile hosts our Baristas, Bar Backs and wholesale partners in the training space, which he shares with the Wholesale Support team of Susan, Josh and Florian.
Kristyna and James F make up the final two spots; the Production Assistants who ensure green coffee passes all QC checks, help manage inventory and the rotation of batches in the green room, and who are also responsible for the beautiful presentation and packaging of your coffee.
We’ve had many a visitor to the roastery over the past year. The obvious ones from our green partners at Nordic Approach, TWCS and Café Imports have been, but also numerous crews from the BBC and Channel 4 have filmed us cup, roast and generally talk coffee. Add to that the open doors when we hosted the English AeroPress Championships, along with visits from many notable roasters, cafe owners, baristas, chefs and even a professional cyclist, all have had the tour, drank the coffee and chatted.
Having everyone be involved over the last twelve months in preparing the space and designing the systems that sculpt our working day has been hard work, incredibly important but, most of all, rewarding.
A never ending work-in-progress, we’re still streamlining and working out how to improve, but rest assured, at no time will corners be cut or product quality compromised.
It’s a team effort and always has been.
It’s a team I’m proud to be part of.
A Pretty Typical Scenario:
A customer enjoys a cup of our coffee.
They ask the barista about the beans used to make the cup.
To recreate the experience at home or work, they decide to buy a bag.
When paying for the bag they query - “It’s ground, right?”.
Until now we've been able to provide the customer with two options:
1. We grind the beans to suit their preferred brew method. I don’t need to go into detail explaining why this is far from ideal, but suffice to say this is like having your bottle of wine opened in store.
2. We broach the subject of grinding at home. Previously stocking only the Porlex Hand Grinder, we have divided the crowd. There are those who relish the tactile and portable nature of hand grinding. Others, less so.
But rejoice! The Wilfa is here - an electric grinder with quality burrs and a small footprint, giving fantastic results without great expense or (somewhat physical) effort, and now we're pleased to announce the new and improved version, the CGWS-130B!
Wilfa’s newest model comes in a very cool ‘Batman’ matte black casing, and is fitted with a new DC motor that boasts higher torque but fewer RPMs than its predecessor. This means you’ll be able to grind dense and complex coffees with ease, preserving volatile aromatics during the grinding process as less heat is generated by the slower burrs.
The chamber is designed to hold up to 250g, dosing out your grounds by use of the timer. We always find it better to weigh your dose before adding it to the grinder. The Wilfa retains very little coffee around the burrs (roughly 0.2g with each dose); weighing each time means your ground dose will be more accurate and the coffee stays fresher in its resealable bag.
We've spent a fair bit of time experimenting with the grinder and thought it prudent to share our findings with you, the main being the range of grind sizes proffered by the Wilfa is pretty wide and could be a little misleading.
Here are some rough grind settings you should start with for the various brew methods you might use to make coffee at home.
The window you should be grinding in is much, much narrower than the settings on the dial suggest.
From left to right (coarsest to finest) the dial reads OFF, STEAP [sic], FRENCH PRESS, FILTER, AEROPRESS, MOCCA. The Steep, French Press and Filter settings are very coarse. You could potentially use the Filter range of settings for brewing 1L plus in a large Chemex, or something equally slow draining, but generally for our style of coffee we're looking squarely at the Aeropress range on the dial.
Basically, you want to see some part of the word "AEROPRESS” on the dial, or you're likely too coarse or too fine for best results with normal filter methods. Treat these suggestions as jumping off points, adjusting as necessary to dial in the coffee to your taste.
Slide the grind setting to OFF, lift the hopper out and the top burr comes out easily. As mentioned before, the grinder retains very little coffee so a soft bristled brush is all you need to loosen spent grounds. It doesn't take much to securely lock it in again. Simply align the burrs and slot them back into place.
To make the prospect even more attractive, you can now group the Wilfa Grinder together with some of the other pieces from our hardware range in the form of our Brew Bundles. As well as providing you everything need to create the perfect cup of coffee in almost every eventuality, you score a rather substantial saving in the process.
If you relish the engagement and tactile natural of manual pour over coffee then this is the bundle for you (includes a 2 Cup V60, 100 Filter Papers, Salter Scale, Glass Decanter, Wilfa Grinder and a 250g bag fresh coffee: £125).
If you just want to press a couple of buttons and brew up to six cups in a few short minutes then this is the bundle for you (includes the Technivorm MoccaMaster, Wilfa Grinder, Gram Scales and a 250g bag fresh coffee: £240).
Nati’s On Priory is the type of neighbourhood cafe that everyone wishes their neighbourhood had, but in reality is a rare find. When you enter, it’s obvious that Nati’s is a café driven by unrelenting passion, and kept on track by a huge amount of care and a steadying hand, despite how effortless and natural it all appears to be. The steadying hand in this case belongs to Natalia Tarjanyi, or Nati as her regulars now know her, and after meeting her it’s not hard to see why she and her café have become a sort of beacon for the area, providing delicious food and coffee to a loyal crowd of regulars.
Stepping into the warmth of Nati’s, you’re immediately hit by the tantalising smells of fresh cakes being baked, fresh bread, and of course coffee. With high ceilings, classic marble tables and curved back wooden chairs, Nati’s has a touch of the European about it, and a touch of the New York too; in the sense of fun in it’s offering, and in the way the décor recalls some classic Jewish-American diners. Come to mention it, it has a touch of the Israeli too. Natalia has travelled a lot, taking inspiration from all over the world, and she has decided exactly what she wants her café to be.
Sitting under the soft light from the glass globe lampshades and admiring the colourful yet meticulously chosen artwork decorating the white walls, it’s hard to disagree with her vision. The staff are welcoming and friendly, excited to talk to every customer as though they were best friends, the coffee is delicious and made with care, and the cinnamon roll we taste (the last remaining one, to Nati’s insistence) is delicious with a great texture— surprisingly but pleasantly subtle and just the right balance of sticky, sweet, and chewy.
Nati sits down with us at one of the inviting marble tables for a chat.
Workshop Coffee: So how did Nati’s on Priory come about? What’s the story?
Nati: Well I always wanted to open my own place, but life happens. You start earning some money and you stop thinking about your dreams, but I always had the idea in my mind. I was always baking, and eventually by husband encouraged me to quit my job and just go for it.
WC: Did you have any experience in food and drink?
NC: No, I had never worked in food, catering, nothing. I decided to spend a lot of time doing research, a full year actually. Good ideas and baking skills aren’t enough. I met a lot of café owners — everyone was willing to sit down with me for an hour or two, and that gave me a better idea of the difficulties involved in running a café. Whenever anyone approaches me I do the same for them. And you know what? I look back and they were right. The issues they flagged up are my issues too. So I recommend people do that, take the time, it won’t all happen right away. I broke it all right down too, how much I need to make in a day to break even, down to the last detail.
WC: We can definitely relate to that detail-oriented approach. What are the difficulties involved in running Nati’s? What’s the hardest part?
N: [unflinchingly] Staff. Without a doubt, staff. There is always something to deal with. And I have a great team! It’s a wonderful team - we like spending time together, we have staff nights out, we do parties, we know each other’s birthdays, and I know they go out together without The Boss too and that’s great.
But with a small business its very difficult to… It’s hard to inspire your staff sometimes. If they stick with me I can give them a good place to work, I can give them training, but there’s not much more I can offer. To offer promotions I need to grow first, so it’s hard to keep really good staff. How do you reward people when you don’t have those positions available? I don’t have these answers.
WC: The café has a really great feel to it, what was your inspiration for the overall aesthetic?
N: I wanted it to feel like a Continental café. I would go home to Hungary and pick things up, or my family would get things for me, from flea markets mainly. We’ve got these great posters for example, ranging from 1930s to 1980s, it’s just not something you see everywhere. [Pointing to a hinged wooden contraption on the wall] That’s a newspaper reader from Hungary, I just love how it looks.
WC: The Continental influences definitely come across, everything feels familiar enough to be comfortable, but unfamiliar enough to still be interesting. By the way, these tables are great, they’re so spacious.
N: Yes these marble tables were something I really wanted, they’re from Germany and they’re just perfect, and the size too as you say. I actually went around cafés with a measuring tape and that’s how I decided what I wanted. I measured baby buggies — so you can get a double buggy through our door for example. The chairs were extremely important too, every detail was important to me.
WC: Was there a lot of work to do on the site?
N: Yes, all the refurb was done by me. We had to change the shop front from an awful aluminium frame, dealing with the council was a nightmare and all I wanted to do was replace it with the original front. I hired a local joiner, he used the same timber and he remade the sash windows exactly how they would’ve been originally, right down to the little carvings on the top which he matched to the ones next door. You know it’s a tiny detail, but he grew up here and he knew what he was doing. You can still see the original shop sign too, you have to have that sense of history.
WC: That way of doing things is quite rare now, right?
It feels more generous this way. It’s more me so I like it, that’s very important that you like it. I’m here seven days baking. It’s a control thing, I have to be here. They [the staff] always push me out though, they’re good without me.
WC: In terms of coffee, what’s the most important thing?
N: Quality and training. Constant training is important, for the sake of quality and for the staff to feel invested. It’s important to make sure everyone is up to standard. Workshop has been amazing, Sam [Brown, Workshop Coffee’s Quality and Development Manager] has been fantastic, the staff love their trainings.
WC: Do you have a good relationship with all of your suppliers?
N: Yeah, every one is a small company and we list them on the menu. The relationships are personal, and we are a supplier for the community as well. There’s a community garden where we take our coffee grounds, and the fruit and veg waste goes for composting. There’s a garden in the back too, in the summer we grow some of our ingredients - tomatoes, red currants, lots of herbs.
But you know, when I was first opening up and talking to suppliers, people would always ask me “is it a coffee place or a food place?”. I hated that question, I hated that I had to choose. Why can’t they both be good quality? So all the food is made here with good ingredients and care, and the coffee is the best you can get. I hate it when I have bad coffee with my food and I have to go get it somewhere else afterwards, it’s so disappointing. Also you know, the coffee is like advertising for the café. People come in, try the coffee, and if it’s good they’ll come back for brunch.
WC: Do you have a favourite menu item yourself?
N: I usually go for the shakshuka. I love it. It’s just something that always makes me happy. But the menu reflects my heritage, and my husband is Jewish so we’ve travelled to Israel a lot- the food there is incredible.
WC: If someone was describing this café to a friend who had never been, what would you want them to say?
N: It’s a neighbourhood café, we’re laid back here, friendly. We know our customers by name, we know their babies’ names. A lot of the mums who come in were pregnant when we opened and now they have kids that recognise me. One of them waves at me and calls me ‘Chicken Lady’. I can’t walk around the neighbourhood without people saying hello, my husband too - he gets “Oh, you’re Nati’s husband!" You know, it’s a place that makes you happy, it’s food that makes you happy.
WC: In a way it’s kind of soul food
N: Yeah, and it’s slow food. The cinnamon rolls take two days to make, it’s the real thing. It’s better for your stomach that way. It’s a traditional recipe and it takes time, it’s delicious and there are no shortcuts. It’s just inviting and welcoming. It’s the same reason why we let dogs in, we are very dog-friendly. In Hungary it’s not even a question. Obviously they are nowhere near the food, the kitchen is separated, we have high shelves. But for us it makes sense, we’re near to Ally Pally [Alexander Palace], there are so many dog walkers around… Bear with me I need to go check my cake!
WC: [A few minutes later when Nati returns]
N: Sorry, it’s Piccadilly Circus in my head.
WC: That’s quite alright. So, do you have a bestselling cake?
N: Yes, the cinnamon rolls normally sell out by 11, 12 o’ clock. We also have something called… Well it’s a Hungarian name, but it’s basically sweet enriched dough, usually with apricot or plum jam, but it’s a difficult word to pronounce with a funny spelling so we did a competition to come up with a name, and the winner would get a free brunch. So now it’s called a Hornsey Bun - we make them every Saturday, it’s just a weekend thing but they’re very popular now as well.
WC: We should let you get back to your cakes, but is there anything else you want people to know about? Any plans for the future?
N: We started doing a supper club once a week actually, and it’s working really well, so look out for more of those.
WC: That’s a really interesting idea, how did that come about?
N: Well we’re not open in the evening, and it’s a very residential area. We tried opening later at first but it wasn’t worth it. But you know, sometimes it’s difficult around here to go out for dinner, people don’t always have time to go into central London. So we decided we could use the space and offer something to the community. The first one we did was a great success, and people kept asking us to do more, so we put in another four dates and they all sold out.
WC: That’s great. What’s the vibe and style of the evening?
N: There’s always a theme, we’ve done Persian, we’ve done South American where we did some beautiful ceviche and things like that, the last one was Autumn themed. We just get everything fresh from the market, and some of the recipes are from my childhood. Like spaetzle, it’s like a handmade gnocchi type thing. It’s made from smoked ricotta which we smoked ourselves, served with some beautiful fresh mushrooms.
WC: Sounds delicious. It must be nice to have that space to experiment with the food a bit?
N: You can definitely lose creativity after a while with the menus, but we are all foodies here. I can be creative with the baking, designing new cakes etc. The chefs love the process of designing the menu, so it gives us a way to do that and make great food with good fresh ingredients. But it’s just a really great atmosphere, we rearrange the tables so we can sit people in their groups, and it’s BYO with no corkage or anything. Most people who have attended have re-booked.
WC: Plus as a bonus you get to use the space that’s sitting empty, and it’s all pre-booked so you can calculate all the costs
N: So there’s zero wastage, exactly. You know what I’m talking about. You have to keep coming up with new things, keep improving, listen to your customers and hope it works.
WC: Thank you so much for your time, we’ll let you get back to doing what you do best.
163 Priory Road, London N8 8NB
Weekdays: 8:30am – 5:00pm
Weekend: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Our planet is bordered, split and segmented by two natural forces, oceans and mountains. Both are dominant features of any landscape, and wildly untameable. For centuries, people have been drawn to the top of one, and to the other side of the other.
In February we crossed an ocean, and it changed our lives forever. So naturally, we turned our heads skywards to find our next challenge. Neither of us have experience mountaineering, neither have we climbed or walked up anything notable.
In fact, the only time we have gained altitude on snow is via a chair lift.
Mont Blanc was the obvious choice. As the highest and most prominent in The Alps, its jaw-dropping beauty drew us in immediately. However, after some light-reading, it soon became clear that the white mountain was not a creche for aspiring mountaineers, but has in fact claimed more lives than any other mountain on earth. Rock-fall, hidden crevasses, fast-changing weather and the constant threat of avalanche makes the climb a far more treacherous endeavour than we had initially imagined.
Regardless, we had committed by this point, so that was that.
We arrived in Chamonix on 25th September, and spent the first few days at altitude, climbing the tallest peak in Italy, Gran Paradiso (4,061m). This was a ‘warm-up’ for the main event and would allow us to acclimatise to the altitude, train with an ice-axe and get used to the use of crampons. In the darkness of the early morning, as we were briefed on the day ahead, we sipped nervously on a batch of Loma Linda Pulped Natural.
The casual jaunt we were expecting never materialised. Instead we were put through our paces, scrambling over exposed rocky cliffs and shown the true power that altitude can take on the body. Compounding our problems, we'd forgotten the lunch we'd prepared for the 7 hour climb.
As we reached the summit (in a needlessly quick time) we began our descent of the mountain, until we were stopped in our tracks. We were severely dehydrated, seriously hungry and had a 4-hour descent of Gran Paradiso in front of us. We continued forward, but apprehensively. Our legs would not respond and our heads thumped due to the lack of oxygen.
In short, we learnt some sturdy lessons the hard way.
24 hours rest in Chamonix offered the chance to meet our guide and discuss the plan. We would spread the climb over 3 days. with day one would consisting of a slog from the valley floor up to the Gouter Hut (3,815m). We'd then attack the summit on day two before returning back to the Gouter Hut and making our descent to Chamonix on day three.
The days that followed were some of the hardest we have ever put ourselves through.
Day one gave us a taste of adventure, some incredible rock scrambling and basic climbing kept our focus sharp and adrenaline pumping. This was the most dangerous part of the climb, crossing long couloir’s of exposed ground prone to rock-fall, as well as scaling an intimidating face of jagged rocks and ice. At the end of day it, we arrived exhausted at the Gouter refuge, celebrating like we had already conquered the mountain.
We already had day two planned out in our minds. It was to be a day for glory, with a steady five or six-hour climb to the summit, a barrage of selfies and a casual jaunt back down to the Gouter for beers and laughs.
We could not have been more wrong.
We awoke that morning to the news of a storm fast approaching. Setting off into impenetrable winds, we drudged our way up the mountain with faces red and battered by the thin layers of ice being swept across us by the weather.
The route to the summit was a set of rolling inclines, each plagued with ice, crevasses and fresh powder from the previous night. This was officially the last climbing day of the season, and we seemed to be the only people heading to the mountains top. The lines of climbers had vanished from the months before, we found ourselves alone, isolated and entirely out of our comfort zone.
We reached the summit in 3.5 hours. This is less a testament to our mountaineering prowess than it is to our nutcase of a guide, Eric. On hearing of our voyage across the Atlantic, he decided we must be alpine machines and dragged us up the mountain at a pace not worthy of our experience. Within that time, we asked some serious questions of ourselves. Our bodies were not used to this strain, altitude and constant punishment. Our lungs screamed for air. Our heads felt close to explosion. Our legs had turned to jelly. But the summit loomed above us, urging us on, step after painful step.
At 4,809m, we stood on top of the tallest mountain in Western Europe, the clouds opened and we were greeted with the warmth of the sun. The turmoil of the previous hours and days washed away, and we simply stood their, saying nothing, surveying the landscape around us. Clouds hovered at eye-level, and distant mountain peaks glinted in the sun like an ocean of breaking waves. We'd pushed through the pain, stumbled, fallen and slid down many a slope, but had achieved what we had set out to do, and that was all that mattered.
This experience for us has opened up a new channel for adventure, and one we intend to explore. From a young age, reaching the top of something seems to be a natural instinct for humans. Whether a climbing frame, a building, or a tree, we have an obsession with being up high, and looking down at the world from above. This is probably why mountains often offer such reward for so many people.
We were incredibly lucky to be the only people on top of Mont Blanc at that point in time. Our experience was undiluted and personal and for a brief moment, we were totally cut off from society around us.