Our ‘Love Your Work’ profile series sets out to discover and showcase individuals, organisations and initiatives, all of whom share our commitment to quality.
For the second piece in the series, we travelled to Bath, Somerset, to chat with Athena Cauley-Yu, owner of Meticulous Ink – a fine stationery and letterpress printing company.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Athena and I run Meticulous Ink - a fine stationery and letterpress printing company located on Walcot St in the centre of Bath.
We do quite a few different things. Firstly, we have the retail stationery side of our business, so we sell our own brand of stationery and paper goods, as well as a curated selection of our favourite stationery things like calligraphy pens, inks etc. We’re also stocked at a number of London department stores - Harrods, Fortnum & Masons, Liberty – and then we offer a bespoke printing service, which is the main part of our business. Our bespoke projects range from business cards, to personal stationery, to wedding invitations. Oh, and I also run calligraphy workshops in Bath and the surrounding area!
How did you get into fine stationery and letterpress printing?
When I finished school, I went straight to university and did Arts & Media. It was a great course if you didn’t really know what you wanted to do because you basically just got put in other peoples’ classes and got to try a whole range of things. In my final year I decided to specialise in Fine Art Printing almost solely because hardly anyone used the print studio – it was empty. There were seventy of us crammed in the art studio, but only about four of us in that print studio.
After university, I did six months of door-to-door charity fundraising (which was really tough) and then I got a job with a stationery company in London’s Sloane Square. I worked there for two years before being poached by another private stationery company in nearby Mayfair. I always knew I wanted to run my own business and my partner at the time wanted to leave London, so I thought this could be a good time to do it. It took me six months to put together the business plan, find a shop and get together enough money (thanks to a business loan, three credit cards and all my life savings!) before opening my first shop in 2010, just down the street from where we are now.
When we first opened, we didn’t do the actual printing in-house - we would do all the design but would then outsource the printing to the shop in London where I used to work. This was fine for a bit, but I realised pretty quickly that I was a lot more meticulous than they were and I just wasn’t happy with the quality or consistency of the printing.
My original business plan had us buying our first big printing press at the three year mark, but I quickly realised that I wanted to be in control of every step of the printing process and so it actually ended up happening after three months. It was a shame to end the relationship with my previous employer, but I soon realised the more we could do ourselves in-house, the better. That way we could have complete control over each stage of production.
That first printing press we bought was initially based in Dorset, which wasn’t ideal and involved a fair amount of travel to oversee production runs. So as soon as we found ourselves a bigger shop [where Meticulous Ink now resides], we moved everything in here.
It’s great to have the machines here because we can show people how the print process works and do quick demonstrations. It just makes a lot more sense to have everything the business does in one building, even if people still come in and ask if we actually use them!
What is it you love so much about letterpress printing?
Without a doubt, it’s the texture. There’s simply no other way you can achieve that in printing. It makes a flat thing 3D, and I love that.
The machines are amazing too. You can tweak absolutely everything about them and, despite their large, lumbering appearance, they’re incredibly precise. For example, you can tweak the speed at which it picks up paper, the thickness of the sheet of paper, the amount of impression the machines gives, the speed of the printing, the amount of ink that goes on the press. Creating something that’s really, really delicate, out of such an old and massive machine is extremely satisfying.
How many of you are here at Meticulous Ink?
There are five of us in total - three full-time and two part-time. We’re a small company so everyone does a bit of everything, but Julia does the majority of our printing, and then the other roles include quality checking, print finishing and packing, client contact, and shipping the online orders.
Do you have plans to open more spaces in the future?
People always ask me if we’re going to open another branch and I definitely don’t feel ready to do that. Because of wanting to keep the quality so high, and wanting to be in control of everything, it doesn’t really make sense to me.
I feel like there’s still a lot we can do here, which isn’t 100% perfect yet, and I’d want to do that first. We can definitely continue growing our online presence, and we’ve got these cool new kits we’re releasing for Christmas which will hopefully help with that. I always try and keep in mind where the business might move next, but as any small business owners knows, it’s very hard to think long-term when you’re trying to keep the everyday stuff ticking along. I recently did a business strategy workshop supported by Bath Council and that was really useful in making me think more long term.
Where did the name Meticulous Ink come from?
It took ages to come up with the name and it was only really after we opened that we realised that from then on, everything we did had to be meticulous and absolutely perfect. So, in order to live up to the name, we quality check (QC) everything that leaves the shop to the highest standard. The greetings cards on the shelves, for example - we’ll check if the board has fluff on it, if it’s slightly over or under inked, if the pressure is slightly different or if there’s a slight tear in the tissue lining. We check all of that. One of the team might be QC’ing and will ask another member of the team “Do you think this is okay”, and the rule of thumb tends to be that if you have to ask, it’s probably not.
This high standard means that we end up with a lot of items which we decide not to sell. The problem is, I’m quite the hoarder and really don’t like throwing things away, so these items end up in various ‘dud’ piles. We have a ‘really dud’ pile, a ‘medium dud’ pile, and then a ‘good dud’ pile, so very occasionally we’ll do a sample sale. It’s a good way to clear out stuff which, to the untrained eye, looks great, but that we’re not 100% happy with.
You’re clearly committed to providing a product of an incredibly high standard, but what does quality mean to you?
For us, quality is something that runs through every stage of the process. For example, if we’re printing one of our own branded products, we’ll be making sure that the initial design process is as cleaned-up and perfect as possible, printing out every stage and making sure it’s all as it should be, and then checking with each other that it’s good enough.
Then, onto the printing stage, we have to make sure the plates are perfect. The plates are the one thing we don’t create ourselves. It took us a while, but we eventually found a company who have just as high standards as we do and their plates are fantastic. Whilst the piece is being printed, we’ll try to filter out any major ‘duds’ straight away and continuously check that the ink quality and texture are consistent.
After that, everything is cut down on our 1990s guillotine, so we make sure the crop marks and the scoring are all perfect. Finally, we do the actual QC checks before packing the item up. So for me, quality is about respecting every single stage of a process.
How exacting can your bespoke clients be?
The majority of the time, people are very picky, and they don’t really realise it until they get into this process. My favourite bespoke projects have always been with people who have a vague idea of what they want, but maybe aren’t creative themselves and therefore they’re happy for us to take the lead. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who have a very specific idea of what they want in their head, but struggle to translate it into words. The challenge for me is to draw what they really mean out of them, and that’s why an initial consultation is so important and why I like meeting people – you can get so much more from being face to face with someone. Wedding invites can be particularly tricky, because there are two people making the decision, but equally it’s usually really fun doing those.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I must admit, I don’t really. Or at least, not that often. If I was doing a logo design for a client then I might do some research on a certain theme, in a Dover Book for example, but I actually try not to look at other people’s work all that much. In a way, it’s because I don’t want to be trendy, I just want to do our thing and do it well.
You mentioned ‘our thing’, do you feel you have a style that’s unique to Meticulous Ink?
I’d like to think so! In terms of our design, because we design specifically for letterpress printing, there are certain restrictions we have to adhere to. Say we’re doing a greeting card, for example, then we know that it can’t have loads of solid areas mixed with loads of thin areas, but then you can do lots of cross-hatching. In a similar way, the number of colours you use means using more plates, and so that makes you layer colours more instead. It’s those limitations, because of the print methods we’re using, that affect the artwork and that, in turn, gives us ‘our look’.
Have you ever had a mentor, or is there someone who has been particularly influential in the development of your work so far?
The letterpress world is extremely friendly because everyone who does it just wants it to keep going and to survive as a medium. So when we first opened, we were befriended by quite a few, what we call, ‘old man printers’ - men in their sixties plus who just love letterpress and wanted to help. There was a gentleman called Simon Smallwood, a hobbyist printer, but a complete expert, whose basement was completely packed with letterpress equipment. He helped us train on our first letterpress machine, a clanky old thing from the 1870s, and then another chap called Richard Lawrence, who now works in Oxford, who helped train us on the bigger machines we have now.
Over the years I’ve befriended quite a few other small business owners which has been really helpful. There’s Carmen, who owns A Yarn Story a few doors down from us - she’s amazing and has a really good business head, and Kate, who owns The Makery. They’ve both been really good to me and for me. So in terms of letterpress and the business side of things, I’ve had a lot of help from some very generous people, but when it comes to design, I prefer to do my own thing.
What do you do to relax?
I’m a Lindy Hop Swing dancer, which is 1920s-50s partner dancing, it’s so fun. Last night I was dancing in Bristol where there’s a big swing dance scene and lots of live music. Pretty much every week there’s some sort of event in Bristol and I go to classes in Bath. My teachers - Graeme & Ann of Hoppin’ Mad - are in their 60s and they’re just so fit and such amazing dancers, and they run four or five social dances a year. I also like knitting and sewing, and generally making with my hands. I think the dancing is so good for me, as it’s really physical and the complete opposite of what I do day-to-day
Being able to brew great coffee wherever and whenever you need it most has always been a key aim of ours. No matter where you are or what equipment you have with you, you should still be able to brew the best cup of coffee possible.
Nowhere is this truer than in the great outdoors, whether that's camping in the wild or hiking up a mountain -- a great cup of coffee is the perfect accompaniment.
Over the recent Summer Solstice weekend, Sheffield-based bikepacking brand, Pannier, set up camp at Stanage Edge in the Peak District and invited tourers to join them for a few days of riding and socialising out in the wild. We roasted a batch of our Rwandan filter, Kirehe Remera, for them to brew up each day.
But brewing in the wild provides some unique challenges and so with practicality in mind, and travelling light a priority, we also put together a few tips to help keep your coffee tasting sweet even with a more lo-fi brewing set-up.
Use a metal filter
You can leave paper ones at home, so the filter holder isn't taking up the space of half a water canteen. Metal filters allow more oils and fine sediment into your cup, and need rinsing and wiping off once you've brewed, thus ensuring the oils don't turn rancid and taint your next cup.
Use a scoop
Every AeroPress comes with a scoop which promptly gets tossed into the "random things" drawer in everyone's kitchen. It's actually pretty decent. The spoon end of a spork (below) also makes for a good alternative.
Grind a touch coarser
You should be using a Porlex when camping; it slots into your AeroPress chamber when packing, is quick, and doesn't require an energy source besides yourself. Rather than trying to squeeze down your AeroPress with a considerable amount of force when you're likely brewing on an uneven tree stump or a mossy woodland floor, go for a coarser grind and longer steep time, with an extended stir to make sure the coffee extracts properly. A coarser grind will also make plunging through a metal filter that little bit easier.
Make sure the rubber bung is securely in place in the brewing chamber and add your ground coffee. Then slowly top up with freshly boiled water to just shy of the brim of the AeroPress a this equates to around 250g of water. Get stirring and leave for a few minutes to steep before placing the filter and cap in place, flipping onto your tin travel mug, and slowly plunging.
Take pre-rinsed filter papers
If you're the kind of person to be doing pour-over brewing in the woods, you sound pretty into your coffee. For single cup brewing, the taste of a filter paper will come through if it's unrinsed, but when camping, water and heat will be in short supply compared to back home. Therefore when packing, spend a minute a few days before you leave rinsing a short stack of filter papers in your pourover cone, letting them dry before popping into your rucksack. That way you can brew straight away without having to boil extra water.
Grind a little finer than normal
This might sound counter-intuitive given the AeroPress brewing advice to grind coarser whilst camping but bear with me. The hard part of pourover brewing without scales is getting an accurate coffee-to-water ratio. We all know the right amount of coffee to water, ground on the correct grind setting gets you a cup of coffee which is well extracted and brewed to the proper strength. What we propose you do in the woods, however, is to purposefully brew a cup that's a bit too strong, but is properly extracted. Then, to dilute the concentrated cup and open up the flavours, add a little hot water to taste.
Aim for a large bloom and higher brew bed throughout
As you won't be packing a gooseneck kettle, pouring carefully, slowly and accurately, in all likelihood, won't be possible. To counteract this, and still get an even extraction, start by pouring quite a lot of water onto the grounds, more than you would at home. Get a spoon in there and make sure that all the grounds are wet in this initial slurry, before continuing to pour. Keep the level of water quite high in your cone, as this will hopefully achieve a higher temperature in the brew slurry. Maintaining a high temperature, combined with a finer grind, means you'll be able to extract all the delicious flavours from your ground coffee, with less water than you would use to pour through the coffee bed at home.
When you feel like you've got a strong cup of coffee under the cone, take it off and taste it. Add a splash more hot water, mix and taste again. Keep doing so until the coffee is at your desired strength then savour and enjoy.
‘The best coffee possible’. A simple statement that sits at the heart of everything we do at Workshop Coffee -- from sourcing green coffee from quality-focussed farmers and producers around the world, roasting it carefully in Bethnal Green and brewing it across our coffeebars. This dedication to quality isn’t unique to us, it exists amongst other industry professionals and home hobbyists alike.
With that in mind, we’ve set out to discover and showcase individuals, organisations and initiatives, all of whom share our commitment to quality.
Kicking off the series is Jake Green, a photographer we have admired for a number of years and, more recently, collaborated with. We sat down with Jake at our White Collar Factory Coffeebar to discuss his life, his work and what the notion of quality means to him.
What’s your background?
“I grew up in London and then spent some time working and studying in Italy as a student. I picked up a camera at the age of 15 and I’ve dabbled with it ever since.”
Did you always know what type of photographer you wanted to be?
“I don’t even know that now to be honest. If I had to say, I’d say portrait, documentary, or observational - it’s what I’ve done a lot of and what I’ve really enjoyed.”
What kind of commercial work do you do?
“All sorts really. A lot of project work for global corporates, helping to bring their brand or product to life in as authentic way as possible. Sometimes I can make it look authentic and real, sometimes I can’t. It can be very frustrating when these things are very contrived. Otherwise, I do a lot of portraits and commercial music jobs, but I don’t tend to shout about that work so much. People think you can use commercial work to build your profile, but I don’t agree. Brands don’t want to see your work for other brands, they just want to see good work. It’s your [personal] project work that will sell you and it’s your project work that makes you better at your commercial work.”
Barista Baptiste Kreyder, former Head Barsita at Workshop and now currently residing in New Zealand.
What got you into coffee as a general theme for your work?
“My interest in coffee began when I moved to Italy as a teenager and started drinking good coffee for the first time. It was about the same time as the new wave of coffee started hitting London and you started to see a real change in the way people perceived it. I was developing ideas for a few personal projects at the time and I came up with this idea of ‘the first coffee of the day’ for the person who then serves coffee all day long. The funny thing is, no one actually drinks that first coffee - you’re dialling in the machine, getting the recipe right, and that’s where the name for the series Dialing In (2012) came from - a series of portraits of 10 or so really influential baristas. There was no real media output for this new coffee movement, but they were keen to spread the message of good coffee and therefore happy for me to document their work and passion. I’ll always remember when one barista said to me, “This work is going to ruin your life. You’ll never be able to drink shit coffee again.” And it’s so true, it’s become an obsession.”
James Bailey, then at Prufrock but now our Head of Quality at Workshop, photographed for ‘Dialing In’, 2012.
How was the project received?
“Overall that project went really well, but most importantly, I enjoyed it and learnt a lot. It also got placed in the FT Weekend which showed that the coffee revolution in the UK was really gaining momentum. The natural progression from there was to look into roasteries, which a lot of the top baristas I had originally met had started to set up. It’s a very tight-knit community and so once I’d photographed one barista or roastery, they would put me in touch with someone else to talk to. I shot roasters in Berlin, Paris & New York, and whenever I was travelling on a commercial assignment, I’d look up a top roaster in the same area and go photograph them.
Whilst working on the roasteries project, I remember one of the roasters saying to me ‘direct trade (of coffee) is a myth, you should go to speak to Nordic Approach’ - an exporter - who sit between the producer and the roaster. And that’s how I got into the agriculture side of the coffee - the final element which I’d never even considered.”
David Nigel Flynn of Belleville Brûlerie in Paris photographed for ‘Roasteries’, 2014.
Where do you see the coffee project moving next?
“My work with Nordic Approach (NA) has definitely piqued my interest in other global trade, so chocolate might be something I look at in the future. But first I definitely want to look at other origins. We’ve already been to Kenya, and NA are keen to document the other regions they work in. The first two projects I did - Dialing In and Roasteries - were about me starting to learn and understand coffee, so I can be in the field with top roasters, and understand what I’m taking pictures of. I want to lean on that experience and make the most of it. I’d love to do some more small bespoke books, like Beber Mi Sudor, for Kenya and Ethiopia, and then eventually do a bigger book which is more of a reference to a range of origins.”
How do you approach a big, daunting project?
“It’s a very conscious thing for me not to define a project before I start it. If you do that, you completely limit the potential of your creative output. That’s what happens with commercial work - you’re told ‘this is what the end result should look like, go and do it’. But that doesn’t make sense, that’s not how the creative process works for me. Every personal project I do is a visual research project. For example, I went to Colombia, but I didn’t know I was going to do a book. I just knew I’d get some pictures which would be useful for Nordic Approach and I’d get something interesting for myself. If I’d said before the trip ‘this is going to be a 100-page book for Phaidon’, I’d have had to had a shot list and thought about the layout of each page, and as a result the work wouldn’t have been so expressive. Something Nick Knight [a famous fashion and portrait photographer] once said was “It’s all about the process, not the end result”, and I live by that completely and utterly.
A street scene from Jake's book with Nordic Approach, sold and launched with Workshop Coffee, ‘Beber Mi Sudor’.
Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
“I think my biggest inspiration comes from reading fiction. It might give me an interesting idea, some sort of historical context or something refreshing that’s not in the mainstream. Picking up a book from the shelf that’s 50 years old is so much more likely to give you a unique perspective than any current media. Reading also lets my mind wander which is great for generating ideas, especially when you’re running around from one job to the next. There’s something to be said for taking a minute to let your mind be idle. Otherwise, I look at a lot of photography and art books and I love going to exhibitions. They’re a bit of shrine for me - there’s no advertising, no people, no screens, and I usually leave an exhibition bubbling with ideas.”
Preacher Samuel from the series ‘The Celestials’, 2015
How do you decide which personal project to prioritise?
“I’m very, very picky about the projects I go into now because I know how much work and commitment they’re going to require. I’ll usually prioritise projects by what interests me the most and what’s achievable sooner rather than later. For example, now I need to decide whether I’m going to go and do another origin project with Nordic Approach (Ethiopia is next), or whether I put that time and effort into doing the Kenya origin book. Or, am I going to work on my Celestials or Jehovah’s Witnesses books which I’ve also got on the go?
I’m going to start work on the Celestials project soon - do the edit, but then make a decision on the final set of images later on. I think it could be something pretty epic so I might want to give the work a couple of years to grow on me and develop. I reckon it’ll be a big, 200-page coffee table book with text and typography so I need to make sure I do it properly. I might even make some proofs of that and go to see a publisher.
The problem with that is when a publisher gets involved the whole vibe of the project can change really quickly. For example, with The Bookmakers’ Studio [Jake’s project that examines some of the world’s leading children’s bookmakers], that started as a small Kickstarter project which got funded and end up being featured on The Guardian with 20,000 shares.
Because of that, Phaidon got in touch with me and asked me to do another book, but with more people, more text, more portraits, and with people from all over the world. At first, this sounded great, but after shooting the first two artists I was done. What had originally started as this completely open-ended visual research project was now a job with a very specific endpoint, and that didn’t appeal to me at all.”
Jake photographing illustrator Jurg Lindenburger in Basel for ‘The Bookmakers’ Studio’, 2014.
You also did a project called ‘Pie & Mash’. Where did the idea for that come from?
“I was doing a series of short films about London with Simon Poon Tip who was doing a project called 32LDN, about the 32 boroughs of London. For some reason we ended up chatting about Pie & Mash shops and were both big fans, so we decided to go around London and shoot every single one. It’s a straight-up photographic documentation of something very unique to London and it picked up a nice bit of momentum online.
It was a very quick Kickstarter to raise money for the book and we doubled the target amount we wanted to raise. The goal is to get all the Pie & Mash shops registered as part of English Heritage but it’s going to be a real challenge with the high streets in the state they are.”
Nathan’s Pies and Eels photographed for Pie & Mash, 2015.
What does ‘quality’ mean to you?
“I think two things really stand out to me. For personal projects, they’re quite selfish, they’re about me projecting internally, not externally. I have to be 110% happy with it - I’m not doing these books because other people love books, I’m doing books because I love books. I want to hold it and enjoy it - and to me, that’s the ultimate mark of quality in what I do. Books to me are an interesting form of self expression - I want someone to look at one of my books and feel the same way I did when I looked at it.
Secondly, it’s all work in progress - that’s super important to me. I look at Beber Mi Sudor, for example, and I want my next book to be as good, different and maybe even better.”
Coffee cherry being loaded into a pulper hopper, from Jake’s latest project, ‘Beber Mi Sudor’.
What’s next for you?
“I want to do the Kenya book with Nordic Approach - we’ve done the trip and the images are looking good but we need some editorial to accompany it. Whereas Colombia is all about the farmers and the small holdings, Kenya is this amazing co-operative story where lots of people with a small amount of beans come together to create amazing coffee. It’s such a colourful and vibrant place and the people are so elegant and beautiful. ‘Drink My Sweat’ is actually a Swahili expression so I’m really keen to continue the series here.
I’ve got a few other personal projects bubbling around though so we’ll see what happens.”
London Coffee Festival is always a mad time of year. In the Old Truman
A pre-requisite of curating a range of tasty coffees is the desire to shift and rotate your roasted offering to reflect what is tasting best at different points in the year. We aim to always offer two single origin espressos (alongside a single origin decaffeinated espresso) as well as between three and five single origin filter options. It's challenging, but we love the variety and fluidity that this offers, rather than artificially creating a diverse offer list through altering our roast style or blending coffees together.
As well as our current coffees we put some other samples on the cupping table to bookmark the range we have available, with some 'no longer fresh' and some 'not quite ready' coffees providing some context for when we use the terms “fresh” and “seasonal”.
The London Coffee Festival is almost upon us once again.
As cafe owners, coffee lovers and roasters from across the country descend on East London, we'll be keeping the shutters at our Roastery in Bethnal Green up a little longer than usual on Friday 13th April from 5:00 p.m..
Providing a welcome break from the franticness of the festival, we'll be putting coffees from our current range down on the cupping table. You'll be able to taste these alongside some past favourites and a preview of some new arrivals as we seek to highlight our commitment to continually move with coffee’s seasonality.
All that, plus a few drinks and a whole host of conversations.
Find us at 29-43 Vyner Street, London, E2 9DQ.
We're looking forward to welcoming you.
We've been supporting London-based cycling team The 5th Floor for five years now and have enjoyed brewing up our coffee at their annual track event for the past three.
This year was no exception. We headed down to the illustrious Herne Hill Velodrome on an uncharacteristically sunny Saturday afternoon to serve up our Gitesi Espresso for riders and supporters.
Below are a few photos we captured on the day.
The plan was a lofty one: a world first Ultra Triathlon through the rugged terrain of Patagonia.
The route was broken into three sections. A 1,600km cycle, a 65km speed record attempt on foot and a world first paddle boarding attempt.
We arrived into El Calafate on the last day of September following 12 weeks of training in the UK. After some mishaps with our luggage, we headed north to the historic (Welsh) town of Esquel. As there is very little information available about the Carretera Austral area, we'd used Google Maps to plan the majority of the route, which showed the region to be flat and smooth.
How wrong it was.
We expected long days in the saddle, but also epic views and favourable winds. But the first shock came when we loaded the bikes up with all our kit: a tent, camera equipment, minimal clothing, dried food, fresh coffee and brewing equipment (we opted for a hand grinder and a V60 for ease of brewing two cups). It turns out that ten days worth made for a very heavy load.
No more than 10km outside of Esquel, we hit a sandy gravel surface that remained for the next 145km. This set the tone for the next five days. After about three hours, we stopped roadside and brewed our first coffee. With one of us catching water from a roadside waterfall and the other grinding the Beyene, it made for a unique brewing experience. We couldn't sit for long as the cold was beginning to sink in, and after another 10 hours we made it to our first stop: a campsite, which was sat somewhere underneath a foot of water. Thankfully, a B&B was open nearby and, after discussing how brutal the day had been, we were eager to head south.
Through the next couple of days of consistent rain, cold weather and ever-changing winds, we finally reached the Chilean city of Coyhaique. We didn't stay for long (14 hours), before heading further south. We cycled upwards, with the longest climb stretching 20km and holding unexpected snowfall, but the bikes ate up all conditions and we finally descended towards Villa Cerro Castillo.
On approach to the tiny village, we were met with a huge road block. The path was rendered impassable on our bikes and so we retraced our descent and found a road heading towards the small town of Puerto Ibanez, where there was an extremely irregular ferry. Luckily, the next departure was only an hour wait which would take us to Chile Chico.
Two tickets please.
This meant that we were on the National Route 40 - the desert road that links north and south Patagonia - earlier than we'd have liked and we quickly hit a total dead zone for GPS and signal. Camping was a nightmare as we slept roadside in the tent and it was at this point that brewing a coffee became the highlight of the morning. After a few days of what felt like endless horizon, we were eventually greeted with the incredible 'Line across the sky' - The Fitz Roy Massif mountain range - and we could taste the finish line for leg one of our ultra.
We weren't quite done though. We still had two brutal days of cycling, headwinds and a couple of punctures to navigate before reaching the mountain town of El Chalten where we hoped to properly recover and fully scope out the second leg of our challenge (the 65km ultra-run).
Despite out best intentions, we found ourselves taking on the 65km Huemul mountain circuit just ten hours after arriving.
We started on the trail at 3.15 a.m. There was a light drizzle and we had nothing but head torches for light. The trail was submerged under water for much of the first 10-12km and, as we tried our best to differentiate between streams and the trail, we often found ourselves off-course. At 4.30 a.m., the snow began to fall, but two hours later our luck changed and the sun began to rise and so did our spirits.
We reached the first traverse at around 8am - a 12m high steel cable between two rocks, hovering above a narrow bottle neck of a glacial river. We had been warned by the rangers to ensure a double or even triple clip point to the wire and its pulley. The traverse caused no issues and we finally reached the summit of the first mountain pass: Paso delViento (“The Windy Pass”).
After another mountain pass and a horrendous descent, we were 15km from the finish line just as the sun was dropping. It was tough - our feet were severely blistered - but we eventually reached the finish line of the Huemul circuit in a record time of 17 hours 22 minutes. It was an incredible achievement that brought some much deserved but very short lived elation...we soon realised we didn’t have any means of transport to travel the 17km back to El Chalten. There was no choice - we had to hike it. Arriving at 4am, we reached the doorstep of our hostel only to find it locked! With no energy left, we slept on the porch until the owner re-opened at 6.30am.
The next two days were spent recovering. We savoured properly brewed coffee, food eaten off a plate and, of course, a couple of beers.
Two days later we got stuck into the third and final leg of our challenge, a world first SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) from Lake Viedma to Lake Argentino via the "La Leona” river. We spent the first day paddling furiously into a headwind, getting spun around as our bodies worked overtime. That night in the tent was the coldest we had experienced all trip, rendering sleep virtually impossible. However, as the final day of our trip came round, it turned out that the weather was favourable. A tail wind meant the paddling was a relative breeze in comparison to the day before, and 45km later we arrived at the “finish line”.
Waves of achievement, elation and relief washed over us as we sat there on the shore of the La Leona river, contemplating the last three weeks. We were ecstatic to have completed this ultra triathlon in one of the rawest environments on the planet.
We have never been to anywhere remotely similar to the completely unique terrain of Patagonia. It deserves all the respect and notoriety it has gained over the years, and we feel proud to have accomplished something never completed in the region before.
We wholeheartedly believe that involvement at every stage of a coffees lifecycle is paramount in providing the best coffee possible.
It’s the reason we spend several months of the year in producing countries, visiting numerous farms and tasting hundreds of coffees. It’s why we have a dedicated Roastery in Bethnal Green, where our Quality Control measures and standards become more rigorous by the week. And the insight and knowledge gained is then executed in each of our coffeebars, where we’re able to serve our guests every day before feeding back to the beginning of the process.
Each stage informs the other and we wanted to create something that served as a reminder of that fact.
So a little earlier this year, we extended a challenge to the entire Workshop team: to create an icon that brought these three things together in a clear, simple and beautiful way. We're incredibly happy to unveil the results.
Taking inspiration from the visual simplicity and immediacy of boy scout badges, each element is brought together in a clear and beautiful way:
SOURCE: A simple outline of a mountain range represents our dedication to sourcing from the worlds best farmers, producers and co-operatives.
ROAST: A curved line that runs through the roundels middle shows the roast profile from Deiby Sair Sanchez, one of our many filter releases this in 2017.
BREW: A small water droplet is a nod to the brewing process that brings the hard work of others to the final cup.
You can shop the first products from the collection here.
The Tempest Two don't sit idle for long and recently announced what they've got planned next. As they prepare to leave the UK for Patagonia next month, James and Tom outline what lies in store following a recent visit to our Roastery in Bethnal Green for a brew class with a difference.
In three weeks time, we'll be taking on our most ambitious challenge to-date. Project Patagonia consists of a world-first ultra triathlon through one of the rawest environments on the planet. As always, we will be totally unsupported and have no experience in any of the disciplines we are undertaking.
Part 1 | 1,600km cycle
Our initial leg of this world-first triathlon is a 1,600km cycle from the North of Patagonia to its South. Skirting the Chile/Argentina border, we'll cross into both countries on numerous occasions. Our greatest adversary on the bikes will not be tired legs or winding hills, but the power of the wind. Outside of Antartica, Patagonia is the windiest region on the planet and gusts often exceed 100km. This variable can work both ways. A prevailing tail wind will allow us to rack up average speeds of 40km/h with little to no peddling. However, if caught riding into a headwind a days riding can equate to a morale-denting 20km.
We'l carry all of our gear in pannier’s, along with our brewing kit and a couple of bags of coffee as the gruelling schedule will no doubt require some daily rituals and, as ever, a morning coffee will be a bright start to each day.
Part 2 | 65km run
To put it bluntly, this is going to be brutal.
Neither of us have any experience in long distance running. In fact, we both hate running. However, we've decided to take on the infamous Huemul Circuit near the town of El Chalten.
The Huemul is one of the regions most renowned trekking routes, a challenging four day circuit which skirts the Fitz Roy range and winds through glacial fields, mountain passes, and raging river canyons. We are tying up our trail shoes, arming ourselves with a day-pack, and aim to become the first people in history to complete the route in 24 hours. We'll leave in the cold of the night and push ourselves as hard as we can.
This will be a true test of mind-over-body, as we're far from finely tuned ultra-runners. Instead, we will fix our minds on the finish line, and accept that for 24 hours we will be in a dark-place. We have been there before, and know that all lows are followed by memorable highs, and that is what we will focus on.
Part 3 | 200km SUP
“I am not sure that is possible, if I am being totally honest..."
Familiar words uttered once again, this time from a local specialist in Patagonia that we spoke to earlier this month. It was he reaction to our Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) attempt.
This has been echoed by almost every person we've mentioned this to. Our naivety means we remain undeterred in what will be our final push to the finish line.
Our plan is to paddle across two of the largest glacial lakes in the region (Viedma and Argentino) and the adjoining river. Again, we are at the mercy of the wind and will be skirting the shoreline, camping each evening and trying our best not to fall into the icy water. After navigating the crystal lakes, we will pull into El Calafate victorious (we hope).
Being self-supported brings with it fresh challenges. Weight and time are important factor to consider, so we've been working with Workshop Coffee to streamline our brewing setup. Spending some time in and nearby to their Roastery in Bethnal Green, their Head of Quality, James, offered up his advice on how to brew most effectively in the wild.
Until now, on the waves of Atlantic, on the shores of the Swedish Archipelago and amongst the dunes of the Sahara we've used our trusty Porlex Hand Grinder and AeroPress. But with yields of a single serving -- and no fewer than the both of us ever requiring a brew -- this method doesn't seem best suited for Patagonia.
Instead, we'll be brewing with a 2-Cup V60. A quick brew time, minimum hassle and robust and lightweight in design means the conical dripper will be up the the travails our adventure has to throw at it.
A cup of coffee may seem a trivial detail to fuss over, but trust us. When times are tough, you are cold and wet, your body is screaming for mercy, and all positivity has left your thoughts, the small things make a big difference. A good coffee, a bite of a chocolate bar, or a message from home are all things that can turn morale on its head. We take these little luxuries seriously.
You can follow our journey via our social channels (@thetempesttwo) and track us on our website (thetempesttwo.com). Hopefully our adventure will inspire you to take on your own, because if we can do it, you certainly can.
See you on the other side.
James & Tom