Our long-time friends Tracksmith understand the powerful connection between coffee and running. Each a ritual in its own right, time on feet is often pre-empted or punctuated by the careful preparation and thorough enjoyment of a brew – something we support through the provision of coffee to Tracksmith's Trackhouses across the globe.
Our collaborative blend, Runner's Reserve, is served in their Boston, NYC and London locations and mirrors the changing emphasis of the run throughout the year – long runs through Spring and Autumn, exploratory adventures through summer, maintenance through winter – Runner's Reserve evolves with the seasons. Alongside a cup to enjoy as you browse their store, you can also pick up a bag to brew at home.
As we look towards marathon majors season, and to celebrate the ongoing partnership, we're offering the chance to win a combination of exceptional coffee and premium sportswear to elevate your running routine. The prize package includes:
For you chance to win the prize package, simply follow the steps below.
This competition is now closed.
We were both excited and grateful to be chosen to participate as an experience judge for the first ever Extracted Development coffee competition, which launched this weekend at the Birmingham Coffee Festival. The brainchild of the talented Cup North team, this new competition focusses on real-life barista skills, how baristas and roasters can and should collaborate to best serve their customers as well as involving the audience in a meaningful way.
Eight roasters from around the country were paired with eight baristas, and were tasked with preparing a presentation for the three experience judges, Claire Wallace of Assembly Coffee, Dénes Bíró of Heylo Coffee and myself, as well as a fourth wildcard judge who was pulled from the audience on the day. Their movements and preparations were watched over by the careful eyes of the technical judge, Sapphire Chan of Ancoats Coffee. For a brief 18 minutes on stage each duo was asked to serve the four judges an espresso, a plant-based milk drink and a filter coffee, using coffee that had to be sourced for under £12 per kilo of green.
The main ways competitors were able to gain points on the scoresheet and climb the leadership ladder reflect the reality of serving customers in a café setting, through being personable and warm, giving good customer service and displaying knowledge of their product and accurately describing the taste experiences of their three rounds of drinks.
It was refreshing to meet such a positive bunch of people over the course of the day, and after each duo called time Dénes, Claire and I would pore over the scoresheets to ensure we were taking care to allocate points to the hardworking baristas and roasters, and confidently reflect their accuracy and attention to detail.
Together, we tasted coffees from Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Rwanda and Ethiopia, everything from traditionally washed through pulped naturals, semi-washed and honeys, into the experimental anoxic/anerobic processes and even a whisky barrel aged coffee. Varieties included Arara, Gesha, Sidra, Caturra, Bourbon, Pink Bourbon and countless others. The level of detail conveyed on how coffees were sourced, roasted and ultimately prepared was fascinating, and we were often left beaming at the passion and enthusiasm that we share as an industry for playing a small role in coffee’s complicated supply chain.
Event co-creator, Grace Talbot, and event MC Ricardo
Underpinning everything, from the organisers Grace Talbot and Hannah Davies through the competitors and our fellow judges was a very strong sense of inclusivity and community. Now we’re looking forward to doing it all again at the Manchester Coffee Festival later this year, which you’ll find us exhibiting at on November 18th an 19th.
Congratulations to the winning duo, Laura Metcalfe and Culainn Boland-Shanahan, and thanks for your routine with which was brimming with knowledge, passion and, of course, tasty drinks.
Eventual winners, Laura Metcalfe and Culainn Boland-Shanahan
We've always appreciated the cultural and historic link between coffee and cycling. From supporting grass roots events and working with local teams, through to the regulars that stop by our coffee bar each week, it's one of a number of reassuring constants that continually bears out in Workshop's story as we continue to evolve.
Building on that strong link, and to celebrate the beginning of the world's biggest bike race – The Tour de France – we've partnered up with creators of natural performance snacks and fuel, Veloforte, to offer 6 months of coffee and nutrition.
Together, we've created the perfect pre- and post-ride recovery bundle worth over £800. For a chance to win simply follow the steps below. Entries close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday 09/07/23. The winner will be announced on Monday 10/07/23.
This competition is now closed.
Founded in 2011, Exploding Bakery have been championing brilliant baked goods for over a decade. Committed to excellent ingredients, working with like-minded partners and producers, and doing so fairly, their approach aligns closely with our own and so working together felt like an obvious decision.
As Co-founder Oli highlights, “the partnership has to be right. Exploding Bakery and Workshop care so much about quality, but also share a responsibility for caring for the planet. Partnerships like this are a great way to shout from the rooftops and be heard by a wider audience”.
Throughout June, you’ll find Workshop Coffee being served in their cafe in Exeter, and you can also add a coffee and cake bundle to your basket in their online shop. This brings together José & Negusse Filter Blend with one of their deli cakes, to be enjoyed together with friends or indulged in alone.
To celebrate, we’re offering three prize packages combining exceptional coffee and cake to create indulgent care packages delivered straight to your door.
To enter, simply follow the steps below.
This competition has now closed.
Preparing coffee in a Jebena outside the Snap dry mill in Dukem.
En route to the dry mills located outside Addis.
It is a wonderful feeling to be able to meet the many people responsible for producing the coffees we get to work with, day in and day out. Having spent the last three years working with Snap Coffee, thanks to Nordic Approach introducing us to their coffees, we were itching to finally meet with them and see their operations in Ethiopia. At the end of February 2023, we spent a week in Addis Ababa cupping through many tables to make our selections for the year, as well as taking time to visit several dry mills and connect personally with Negusse Weldyes and several of the key members of Snap.
Snap's pristine and well organised dry mill.
From the moment you step into the Snap dry mill, you instantly witness their attention to detail. Visiting dry mills can typically be an assault on the senses. They are noisy, dusty and you need to be sure footed to avoid tripping over or knocking into the wealth of pipes, conveyers and silos. At Snap’s mill in Dukem, just outside of the capital, they have invested in two distinct production lines, one to mill and grade natural processed coffees, and another line for washed coffees. With 90-95% of the season’s washed coffees in the warehouse already, piled up in neatly organised bays with tracebility reports tagged onto each stock lot, there was still no sense of chaos or disarray and the whole space was noticeably clean. We know how much work goes into keeping one small coffee roastery clean (coffee isn’t exactly co-operative in green or roasted form when it comes to leaving spaces spic and span) and so it was impressive to see gleaming floors and pristine machinery in the midst of the season.
Learning from Bahiru, the mill manager.
Bahiru, the mill manager, very graciously showed us around, detailing each step from when the parchment coffee initially arrives at the warehouse and through each subsequent step which performs an integral process to produce the highest quality possible. A truckload of parchment coffee will arrive from a washing station having been sampled, cupped and assigned a grade at the quality lab located close to the wet mills. When another delivery from that station arrives it can be consolidated with the previous delivery if the grades match, with one crucial step that a physical marker (a layer of jute sacks for example) separates the outturns to allow for a distinction to be made between the lots. This is a great practice, as when we are cupping the lots as a potential buyer we can look at multiple deliveries and assess a station’s output with more scrutiny.
When it comes to milling the lots they are taken to the relevant production line whether they are washed or naturals. After removing any foreign debris and going through the destoner, those green coffees going on the washed line will see the parchment milled off and the seeds polished to remove the more persistent silverskin layer. Sieves are then used to grade the coffee seeds by size and a gravity separator table refines by density. The jewel in the crown is the new optical colour sorter that has been installed this season, using 20 cameras to gain the utmost control over removing off-colour, malformed and damaged seeds. Before they are quite done with it there are three long conveyers for teams to sit at for a final hand-sorting stage, with an adjustable speed dial for lots when a little more time needs to be taken to get the desired result.
These steps cumulatively reduce the weight of the starting matter, and they will typically require 450 sacks of parchment to create a container’s worth of green coffee. For Grade 2s and lower they will alter the specifications on the optical sorter to not be so fussy, but some Grade 1 coffees may result in a 60% loss in weight to achieve the required quality and uniformity.
Stock lots in the warehouse, from which Sesay will take samples from each bag to create a representative sample.
When touring the warehouse and examining the traceability reports we learnt a lesson: with good intentions, we have been using slightly incorrect terminology when naming and detailing our coffee information for all previous Snap releases. I fall on my sword for this, but thankfully this allows us to better clarify things this year.
Previously we will have touted a lot as coming from the ‘Danche’ washing station or ‘Riripa’ washing station, that we have said is Snap owned and operated. This is, in a sense true, but omits details that we weren’t aware of. Snap cannot technically ‘own’ washing stations whilst also being an exporter. The name on the traceability report will detail specifically who owns the washing station, and Snap will finance the operation.
They also employ a quality manager to oversee the practices undertaken at the stations they ‘run’ to maintain and improve quality standards. Previously an employee called Abenezer Asfaw was running logistics at Snap and has this season begun running his own operation called Origin Land Coffee, from whom we cupped some very promising samples. We connected with the new quality manager for Snap, Medhin, and even managed a little cupping with him, and it was great to see how strict he is when assessing his own coffees.
So, the washing station is financed by and operated by Snap, but what was most important to learn is that there are multiple washing stations within these kebeles and woredas, that aren’t actually named and so can be presented as one and the same when they are in fact different operations entirely. Differentiating between one site dubbed ‘Chelelectu’, ‘Konga’ or ‘Refisa’ is therefore quite tricky without understanding the supply chain in more detail. One wine producer in Arbois-Pupillin will have a different expression of the varieties and climate than another, just as one washing station in Nensebo Refisa may offer a different degree of quality than another. In lieu of the washing stations having dedicated names we will continue to identify the ‘Producer’ of the coffees alongside primarily presenting the kebele as the coffee’s name. For example, ‘Riripa Espresso’ produced by ‘Snap Coffee & 750 smallholders around Sorfta, West Arsi, Oromia’.
Cupping in the Tropiq lab at Snap Plaza in Addis.
Speaking of Riripa, we were really impressed time and again by the lots being processed in this area at Snap’s washing station. The standouts time and again were lots from their stations in the following areas: Danche, Aricha and Riripa. We also loved the coffees from Hunkute (a member of Sidama Coffee Farmers’ Co-operative Union) and Nano Challa (from the Kata Muduga Union), which we will also be pursuing again, but it has to be said that for overall variety, consistently high quality and the trust we have had instilled by visiting their operations we are going to continue to buy heavily from Snap Coffee. After sampling hundreds of bowls of coffee you can work up quite an appetite, so sharing some Shiro Wat and Injeera becomes an imperative.
We were privileged to meet with Negusse Weldyes, the owner of Snap Coffee, as well as his son Amanueal who has been working for the company for several years to learn about how they are evolving and what challenges they are facing this year.
Prices in Ethiopia last year were very high, and this year they have risen dramatically again. The minimum prices set to buy cherry in the field has escalated and the amount of Ethiopian Birr required to buy a kilogram of cherries may have sat around 12-14 only a few years ago, whereas they have heard of stations in the West paying 100 Birr per kg this season. 60 Birr per kg has not been uncommon for Snap this season, and what was laudable was that Negusse kept the Snap operations going throughout the season, whereas a lot of competitors and other operations were too hesitant and had been waiting for prices to come down before they began to purchase and process cherry. This is important as the smallholder farmers who actually grow and harvest the coffee cherries that become the product we end up buying and roasting have been given access to market at Snap’s stations, rather than be forced to perform home processing to produce low grade naturals that will only be sellable into the internal market.
As well as continuing to buy cherries at premium prices Snap have even expanded their operations, with 30 stations in their fold, including new sites at Gasure, Hadda, Mewa and Hara Buluk. They are installing cherry colour sorters at those sites when they are focussing more on naturals, which is again a testament to their willingness to evolve, invest and improve quality. They even have some Colombian made optical sorters being installed to sort washed coffees at the wet mill level. Amanueal was telling us about their scheme to improve traceability whereby every smallholder delivering cherries gets their consignment of fruit logged and it will enable each station to identify the top producers as well as feedback when there are positive or negative cupping results to more specific growers enabling better assignment and direction of training resources. They bought 100,000 seedlings last year to distribute to growers in the three main districts where they are working, as well as having new logistics procedures to ensure their containers are properly primed and sound before coffee is shipped. This shows they are not just focussing on high profile areas like producing more anaerobics, but actually providing support all the way through the supply chain.
Medhin is the quality manager for Snap Coffee.
Adham was our gracious host from Tropiq.
We would not be able to work with Negusse and Snap Coffee without partnering with Nordic Approach and Tropiq, and their staff were very gracious in showing us their own practices and protocols, so that we could learn more about what service they provide in getting the best coffees into our roastery. Sesay, Helena and Lenok work in the lab, and every dry mill and producer we visited talked about how much respect they have for Sesay and how thorough she is in sampling and ensuring the dry milling of each lot is done properly. If things fall short they will go through the whole process again until the quality is at the right level. Adham from Tropiq was our main host when out and about and we learnt so much from him, as well as being able to meet with Joanne and Alec, with whom we’ve spent many hours on the road in several producing countries.
Whilst prices are definitely high this year we do not wish to simply pivot to other origins or lower our standards to get a better deal. We see the value in what Snap and other Unions are doing, for smallholders and their livelihoods as well as their efforts being undertaken to produce high grade specialty coffees. This is not without its challenges, as we are running a house blend, José & Negusse, which is offered at a fixed price point. Our Peru coffees were also incredibly expensive compared to previous years and so we are going to feel the pinch on this line, but see the inherent value in providing this stable yet spectacular tasting coffee year round. There will no doubt be some increase on the filter pricing, for example lots from Danche and Nano Challa, as well as a small bump on espresso prices from Aricha, Riripa and Hunkute. We’re sure that some roasters won’t be carrying as much Ethiopian coffee this season, and can see the arguments for both sides, but what has always driven us is the desire to create memorable coffee drinking experiences, and without the right green coffees none of this is possible.
We are very grateful for your support and hope you love these coffees as much as we do, keep an eye on our social media for updates as to when we will be receiving and beginning to roast this season’s Ethiopian coffees.
Some of our long standing customers will remember the days when our house espresso, named ‘Cult of Done’ after Bre Pettis’ manifesto, consisted of multiple coffees. In our early years it was a staple of our coffee offering, with an ever-rotating and seasonal mix of components offering fantastic quality results in terms of extraction and flavour.
However, I can distinctly remember a particularly palate-fatiguing quality control session when armed with two test roasts of an Ethiopian coffee called Aricha and a single plot coffee from Finca San Francisco in El Salvador. We trialled various ratios, altering the prominence of each test, testing out every combination from the four tests, before dejectedly reaching the conclusion that these two coffees simply didn’t blend well. We inevitably found the results to be jarring, sour, incomplete and less than the sum of their parts. This led to the realisation that purchase planning and forecasting are totally distinct practices from the nuances of creating a blend that works, synergistically.
It was always hard to get behind a blend, philosophically speaking. All we were doing was putting two or three delicious coffees together, hoping for compatibility in the ways they interacted, which could normally be wrangled via a tweak in our roasting approach, but this often involved some form of compromise. I felt a cognitive dissonance offering a blend whilst at the same time championing the producers of the coffees we were roasting and showcasing. Provenance and traceability were never sidelined, but it felt as though they were diluted when they didn’t get top billing.
Jump ahead and we have now been roasting for the best part of 12 years, and I am excited to introduce our newest addition to our coffee lineup...which is a blend.
‘Seasonal’, but not as you know it
A quick tangent, if you’ll permit me.
At the 2016 Aeropress Championships in England, Junya Yamasaki of Koya fame was one of the guest judges. Having the utmost respect for his palate and approach at his restaurants we thought it would be fun to stir the pot and include a non-coffee judge. After the competition, Junya invited some of us to the chef’s table at Koya for a private dining experience, where I had one of the most memorable mouthfuls of my lifetime.
Junya was more like a poet than a chef, curating and presenting, pulling out a wild stump of horseradish that he’d found on the side of the road, describing the root as ‘really grotesque, but kind of beautiful’, before grating it over our plates. One dish was meant to represent the transition of the seasons, with a small circle stamped out of a slice of pickled turnip adorned with a single, fresh plum blossom.
‘Eat it like a taco’ was our instruction. It was surprisingly tasty, but more than that it felt poignant and thought provoking. We were tasting the remnants of the Autumn, preserved over winter, livened up with a sprinkling of fresh spring time. ‘Seasonal’, yet not as you would normally know it.
'Cupping' coffee is a standardised industry-wide protocol to sensorily assess a sample of coffee. It can be focussed on analysing the quality of green coffee during a 'sample cupping' or as a means of assessing the roast quality of various batches during a 'production cupping'.
Freshness on paper versus freshness in the cup
We’ve never drifted from our core principles of buying clean and sweet coffees, roasting them carefully and in a considered manner, so that they’re always tasting fresh and vibrant. As such, we are a ‘seasonal’ roaster, and we are not alone here. Most roasters will offer coffee from similar origins throughout the year, and this is often driven by keeping stocks light and lean, accurate projections, and knowing full well that certain coffees just don’t stand up over time and need to be burnt through swiftly.
I recall cupping a whole table of offerings from Tim Wendelboe in late 2020, and I had to message him swiftly afterwards to ask what wizardry Jobneel was undertaking at Nacimiento. The coffee was harvested May 2019, and it tasted fresh as a daisy, sparkling, layered, juicy, with not a hint of fade. His reply was both informative and at the same time almost self-evident: the coffee lasts well because of good processing, drying, storage and packing.
We have had similar experiences with certain coffees we buy initially tasting very muted and uninteresting. It took the first few months before they would relax and slowly bloom and open up, becoming expressive and aromatic for an extended period before gracefully tapping out by turning down the volume on intensity, rather than tasting woody or vegetal.
It seemed as though the name of the game had changed, and offering ‘fresh on paper’ coffees wasn’t the only way to offer ‘fresh in the cup’ coffees. Was it possible to square the fact that coffees peak at different times with being staunch seasonalists? We began to adjust my mentality, moving away from wanting to be the ‘first’ or the ‘freshest’, which can miss the point and even warp potential purchasing in a negative way. The point is that our coffees taste great.
Parchment coffee resting in a cool warehouse in Calca. Samples will be pulled and manually milled and sorted to assess before lots are graded, collated and provisionally sold to the end customer. The coffee is then moved to a dry mill on the outskirts of Lima for processing and bagging up to ready the lots for export.
Fostering relationship coffees
Flavour aside, a large part of our buying approach is to understand in great detail where our coffees come from, and be as invested and committed in the process as possible. This year we will be roasting coffee from Gitesi for the 10th time, and it is our 8th time roasting Hunkute and Mahembe, which are examples of some of our more established relationships. Other farmers and groups we have been buying from for many years are very important to us, as well as to our customers for whom seeing familiar names on our offer list each year is reassuring and exciting.
We have been actively trying to mature ourselves as coffee buyers, and part of this process has been to move away from simply tasting everything we can ‘blind’ and pursuing the ‘tastiest’ lots. We now look to secure samples from producers and associations, as well as importers and exporters with whom we have a history, two-directional trust and an open, honest dialogue.
A new coffee demographic, or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying About Acidity and Love Balance
We are not the lightest roaster on the planet, but in the scheme of all coffee available in the marketplace we are definitely in the light-roast camp. Our filter roasts are typically very light, and even our espresso roasts would most likely be described as light to medium. There are, however, certain coffees that we want to buy that fare better when pushed a little further, allowing us to untap a new demographic. We have spent several years developing a range of coffees from producers:
The analogy I have heard before which is used to describe a good green buyer is that we don’t want to simply ‘pick the raisins out of the cake’. Taking only the top lots leaves the bulk of coffee behind, which is the producer’s bread and butter. Well produced and clean lots like these can quite often be delicious as well as more suitable for certain markets, when compared to lots with cup profiles that particularly excite us and those initiated in the specialty coffee industry.
Our buying has never been directed by cup score, but by flavour profile and potential to retain character over time. Roasting for hotels and restaurants has sharpened our skills not just as buyers but also as roasters, learning how to modulate acidity, develop coffees differently for ease of use and for a different range of beverages ultimately being prepared and served. We're proud that introducing such coffees to these sorts of customers has enabled us to strengthen our buying ethics and build more volume with the groups and producers we love.
Some of the tubs used during the hand sorting of drying parchment on raised beds at Snap-owned Worka Chelbesa washing station, in Ethiopia's Gedeo zone.
Developing a constant
Typically, coffees in Ethiopia are harvested between November and January, whilst Peruvian coffees are picked between June and August. Containers from Ethiopia arrive in spring, and from Peru in winter, making for two nicely timed drops throughout the year. If we get our ducks in a row we are able to sub in a fresh component twice during the calendar year and offer a blend of these two origins, more specifically from the two producer groups with whom we’ve worked for several years and had fantastic, ever-improving results.
By topping and tailing Ethiopian and Peruvian coffees in this fashion we have begun to understand the interplay between the two, how best to achieve optimal development on each to achieve balance in the cup and uniform behaviour. It wasn’t sudden, and has taken a fair amount of experimenting, but we have reached the point where we can say, hand on heart, “if you order this coffee any day of the year it will taste great”.
Agustin Ccasa Ccoyo at Finca Progreso in Huaynapata, Cusco, grappling with a particularly willowy Bourbon coffee tree.
Valle Inca Association & José Prudencio
The first year we bought coffee from the Valle Inca Association was in 2018, thanks to an introduction via Promoting Peru. We ended up roasting two lots, one from Ricardo Ccallo Olave at Pampa Blanca in Quinuay and another from Agustin Ccasa Ccoyo at Finca Progreso in Huaynapata. These lots represented about 6.5% of our total purchasing that year.
The following year we bought yet more bags from the Valle Inca group, including new producers like Yolanda Cabrera Alvarez, Juan José Huillca Singuña, Rafael Tupayupanqui Vargas and Miranda Huaman Gregoria, which represented over 12% of our volumes for that year. Being able to visit some of these producers, as well as travel and cup with José Prudencio to see the warehousing and dry milling operations that Valle Inca use, was informative and helped us to calibrate and plan together for the following year.
This year we have finalised our purchasing quantities, which equate to an entire container from one origin. Our relationship with Valle Inca has steadily grown, and so to have their operations, expanding from 100 members in 2018 to more than 261 producers around the Cusco region by the beginning of 2021. All the members are working organically and are certified as such via the Valle Inca group. For a member to join, there needs to be a baseline of quality met, dictated in part by altitude and the type of varieties planted, but ultimately it is down to the desire of each member to improve their quality through hard work.
As well as paying premium prices Valle Inca support their producers in many ways. They offer pre-financing, aid in the building and purchasing of drying infrastructures and processing materials, offer agronomical advice and harvest planning and protocols. Several of their members, including Agustin, reliably place well in Peru’s Cup of Excellence competition.
Squeaky clean parchment coffee drying on the raised beds at Snap's Raro Boda washing station in Uraga, located within Ethiopia's Guji Zone.
Snap Coffees & Negusse Debela Weldyes
Snap Coffees in Ethiopia first came to our attention via Nordic Approach. We’ve purchased lots from several of their washing stations over the last three years. The likes of Refisa, Riripa, Worka Chelbesa, Danche and Raro Boda are washing stations owned and operated by Snap Coffees, and we have always had them at the top of our priority list when working with Nordic Approach and other importers to secure sample materials and make our buying selections.
Established in 2008 by Negusse Debela Weldyes, the group are responsible for the running and operation of several coffee washing stations. Abenezer Asfaw oversees logistics and supply chain mapping, and is the liaison for Tropiq, which is Nordic Approach’s sister company with a team on the ground in Ethiopia year-round. Abenezer and his team oversee the processing facilities but also take on the task of dispensing agricultural knowledge to their contributing farmers. They are committed to recycling waste by-products from coffee processing at each of their stations where they have also built schools and provided them with computing equipment from the other arm of their business which is in electronics. They intend to improve the roads to streamline access to the washing stations as well as build health clinics to provide access to better healthcare for their contributing farmers as well.
Lots from the most recent harvests have been dry milled at Snap’s new processing and warehousing facility, which has just been fitted out. This has afforded the group even more control over the final exportable product that we get to work with, leading to improved consistency and uniformity. They receive premium payments because of the high qualities being produced.
The strong starting block of well-nourished, high-quality variety coffee trees, coupled with their attention to detail in processing, through renewing and tiling fermentation tanks and slow, cool temperatures during fermentation and drying, means that these beautiful washed, organic lots from Ethiopia always deliver a wealth of complexity for an extended period, and we have come to be reliant on them as a backbone of our buying approach.
It will always feature a component from a Valle Inca Association producer and a component from one of Snap Coffees’ washing stations. Rather than obscure or dilute traceability and provenance we are still hoping to champion the producer groups upon whom this coffee relies via naming their respective presidents, José Prudencio and Negusse Debela Weldyes.
We hope that in offering this blend we will enable ourselves to strengthen our ties with these two producer groups, building more volumes with them, as well as offering some stability and constancy in our coffee range.
Fred Rigby's had a busy year. Since we last caught up, his studio has been packed up and transported from North London's Stoke Newington, where he'd been based since 2019, to a new space in London Fields, Hackney.
Housed over two floors, Fred's new, enlarged space dates back to the early 1900s and, rather aptly, originally held a cabinet maker within its walls. Today, thanks to Rigby's relentless imagination and tireless work ethic, his new workshop is producing a variety of furniture, as well as designing retail and domestic interiors and a soon-to-be-launched homeware collection.
On entering the new space, you're immediately greeted by Fred and his team, who all work at the front of the building. Behind them is the workshop, where his pieces are built, and new concept pieces are honed and refined, but it's the narrow wooden staircase that beckons any guest on entry. Facing the industrial doors you step through, the stairs ascend to a space that's split into two distinct halves – part loft apartment, part showroom. The high ceilings and large windows on the building's front allow light to cascade through and onto his pieces – an ideal showcase of his work in its natural environment.
"I wanted to create a space that felt like a home rather than a traditional showroom so our furniture looked as it would in a clients home", says Fred. "We also wanted to create an inviting space you could spend time in, as alongside showing our furniture we use the space for consultations on retail and domestic interior as well as bespoke furniture commissions".
Walking to the back of the room and through the bi-folding door that dissects the space, the ceiling lowers and the wall colours darken to create a kitchen that feels more like a library. "It's the heart of the home", Fred points out, "but I didn't want it to feel imposing. It's been created to be functional for guests, whilst remaining discrete and nestled away". The shelves filled with Feldspar cups and pieces from Kana London, it's here we brew a coffee and he talks us through his plans for the second half of the year and beyond:
"There's a lot going on, especially through the summer. We're launching a new collection at London Design Festival in September, and that's going to feature an installation and exhibition in our Studio home in London Fields. There's lot more beyond that, too!"
You can visit the new Fred Rigby studio by booking an appointment here.
Rapha's Pennine Rally is a multi-day event that, this year, took 100 cyclists from Edinburgh to Manchester via the challenging uplands of Northern England. Covering 500km, the self-supported ride saw participants tasked with arranging their own food and accommodation as they travelled from Scotland and down into England.
However, there were surprise moments of respite during the five day excursion. One such instance was Snow Peak’s small, tented village where riders were treated to warm, freshly prepared noodles, freshly brewed cups of Workshop Coffee and a no doubt much-needed seat.
Photos taken by and shared with the kind permission of Dan Monaghan.
“Please don’t worry about making us sound more eloquent – we don’t have a problem with being misquoted if we sound better on the page than we do in real life”.
The humility that underpins design studio Instrmnt Applied Design (I-AD) is apparent from the moment that co-founder, Ross Baynham, begins to talk. Speaking from their Glasgow-based office, Ross and co-founder Pete Sunderland sit against a sparse white backdrop that is accented by the silhouette of Vitsoe shelves. As they sip at their cups of coffee and outline the beginnings of their multi-disciplinary design studio, it’s clear that a passion and inherent love for beautiful, functional design drives every decision they make and every product it gives rise to.
Founded in 2014, I-AD focuses on creating products that are of high quality, simple and attainable. In the past eight years, their work has been widely recognised and lauded, from the likes of V&A and London Design Festival, to The New York Times and Dezeen.
RB: “Both Pete and I were graduate designers. He was studying graphic design and I was studying product design, and both of us were working in industry. Having shared a studio in university, we knew that we both shared a visual language and design style, which gave rise to us beginning to collaborate on a personal project. We wanted to design really simple products – essentially instruments and things that were functional in nature – and we started with a really good, proven piece of technology: Ronda’s Swiss quartz movement. Designing a watch that was purely for ourselves, we didn’t just focus on the project, but created a brand too. And people really wanted it.”
PS: “With no money to produce the thousand or so pieces we needed to bring it to life, we went to the bank, who basically laughed at us, and so crowdfunded ourselves on Kickstarter. By the end of the 30 days, we’d raised £100,000, which was unbelievable. That took some fairly significant explaining to my bank when it arrived”.
Despite the success of their as-yet unreleased product, Pete says that I-AD “still didn’t feel like a real company”. Today, though, there are no reservations on whether or not that’s the case. Since launching, they’ve created four watches, a city bike, a clock, an umbrella, a day bed, a jacket and a lounge chair – and that’s not an exhaustive list.
Having been responsible for such a varied array of products and projects, is there still a red thread that holds them all together?
RB: “It’s funny, the watch has kind of become the defining product for I-AD, but that’s not what we’ve set out to do. We’ve always wanted to design a family of products with a functional, technical link that runs through them all, whether that’s an SRAM bike hub, a clock movement or, looking towards the future, an ink cartridge. We see ourselves as being here to increase the functionality of the design and build something beautiful”.
PS: “From the first watch we ever designed, we did what we were told never to do, which was design for ourselves. We made something that we wanted to use and that’s been reflected back to us by our customers. As we’ve grown as a company and as a brand, we’ve continued to break that rule. Our tastes have evolved over time and so have our products, but our customers have changed with us”.
Evolving alongside them has been the city I-AD has always called home.
RB: “Glasgow’s a large part of our identity. We’re interested in industrial design and Glasgow is a city with a rich industrial past that ranges from the way-before-its-time minimalist design of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to Glasgow’s huge history in ship building. More recently there’s its vibrant underground music scene and underground design scene too, especially coming through the 19080s and 1990s, when it was still considered a dangerous city”.
RB: “All of that combined to create an incredibly creative city right around the time we were both becoming professional designers in the early 2010s. It takes cues and hints from its industrial past and then refines them into a design style that’s rooted in minimalism and is honest. There’s no pretension and people aren’t trying to be something they’re not in their work”.
PS: “That’s just it. Much of the creative output of the city reflects the people in it – or maybe it’s the other way round – but it’s pretty cut and shut, and straight down the line. But it’s a great city to be a creative in. We’ve got The Modern Institute round the corner, a brilliant music scene, the Glasgow School of Art which churns out a lot of brilliant designers – it’s a wonderfully creative city”.
One of I-AD’s more recent projects was a chore jacket. Their first garment, in some ways it represents a departure from their usual projects, but Pete and Ross see it as a logical progression.
PS: “The jacket was a big project for us as our aim was for it to be our statement on sustainability. We’d always wanted to create a piece of clothing and it finally came about as a result of a close friend and pattern cutter leaving their job at [Scottish clothing brand] Hancock and having the time to do it”.
RB: “And I realise this is going to sound a little ridiculous, but on this project he was almost the component. He’s unique and a fantastic pattern cutter, a very modest designer and maker of clothes and he’s created a small-scale factory in his dad’s garage where he’s doing things that just can’t be done anywhere else in the country. He’s what drives that product and it’s very interesting working on that level, with the creativity of an individual defining the quality of the piece”.
Like a number of their projects, the chore jacket’s numbers were limited to just 100. A byproduct of the way I-AD works, this is another theme that runs across their range of releases.
PS: “I like the idea that we create something, sell it and then that’s it – for the most part we move on. For us that’s not to artificially create a sense of scarcity or hype; it’s more to keep it fresh and interesting for us, and, in turn, for our customers. It’s a balance though. We do think, and at times worry, about dilution. You can do everything, but be nothing, and that’s not us”.
But to be able to appeal to the same person and with the same ethos with a different range of products helps to avoid conspicuous consumption, does it not?
RB: “Definitely. In the earlier days of INSTRMNT we spent a good amount of time at fashion shows and exhibitions, where we’d see a new season dictating small tweaks and new colours across hundreds of products and thousands of brands. It didn’t take too many shows for us to realise this just wasn't a sustainable model”
PS: “We understood it – buyers and retailers want and need new things every few months to keep things visually different and fresh – but we can’t do that. We will release new iterations and colourways of certain products, but we do it on our terms. Our hope is that you buy one of our products and wear, use, sit on that product for the rest of your life. That’s why we like breadth. Taking the principles and values from one of our products and applying it to something complementary but altogether different just makes sense to us.
The topic of sustainability is an interesting one to discuss with Pete and Ross. It’s baked into their products, but their prevailing focus is on creating items that are as beautiful and simple as they can be. Is it therefore a result of the way they work, or is something they’re continuously conscious of?
PS: “We never started out with sustainability at the forefront – it was about producing the best possible products we can. It’s been a journey for us because now we have this roster of manufacturers and processes who we’ve spent eight years developing relationships with that we implicitly trust and who share our own principles. That’s allowing us to go back and drill down into what we can improve on and how we can make our products more sustainable”.
RB: “Sustainability can be such a difficult conversation, and it’s one that’s tricky to balance from I-AD’s perspective. It’s incredibly important to us in our personal lives, there’s no doubt about that, but the reality is that the most sustainable business we can have is no business at all. But if the most sustainable thing you can do is not produce products in the first place, we think the second best thing you can do is make high quality products that last for a long time, negating the need for somebody to replace it every year or two”.
PS: “I think we’re a sustainable business, but not a sustainability business. For us, it’s a process and a journey of continual improvement. Back when we released our first watch, we’d see watches arriving in their hundreds and each one would be individually wrapped in pieces of plastic and it was heartbreaking”.
RB: “It was – they were wrapped in materials that were never going to leave this planet. Over time, and by building the relationships we have now, we’ve been able to demand that these are removed from anything that arrives with us. We’ve also been able to review our packaging, moving from virgin paper to recycled paper and our watch packaging is no1 100% recycled. That’s trickled down to products in the last year, with the release of our solar-powered Field Watch, which removes the need for batteries, and this year we’re introducing recycled stainless steel, recycled watch dials and 3D printed components using recycled plastics”.
PS: “We’re doing what we feel every business should be doing. We’re not just aiming for every product we release and project we complete to be better than the last. We’re trying to make sure it’s more sustainable”.
I-AD’s process is involved from beginning to end, but with a core team of just four people, the continuous and varied workload allows them a large amount of freedom.
PS: “We do our best work when we work organically. One week we’ll pour the majority of our efforts and energy into one thing, and the next it’ll be focused somewhere else entirely. What we’re doing reflects the movement of any given project and we like it that way.
RB: “Our system is that there’s kind of no hard and fast system”.
And what about getting stuck?
PS: “That happens on every project. We’ll spend a lot of time researching and learning about the process, manufacturing and technicalities before we properly embark on a new project. And we inevitably hit dead-ends after going way, way down the rabbithole and wind up discarding what we’ve learned. Sometimes it gets picked up further down the line on another project, but more often than not it doesn’t and you have to accept that as part of the process”.
On the subject of process, talk turns to rituals and routines. With such a fluid approach, are there non-negotiables within their weeks? Things they feel they need to do in order to maintain a degree of balance and order?
RB: “I walk to and from work every day and it’s normally my favourite part of the day, where I spend time listening to a podcast or learning something new. It’s become the most sacred part of my day”.
PS: “We do brew and drink coffee every day too. The studio will always have a coffee at the same time and we use the Moccamster to make it, which is just so simple – it’s really nice to have that level of quality in such a manageable way. It’s especially useful at that point just after lunch when you’ve got the desire to get up; to just do something and move about a bit. Brewing coffee is a perfect way to cut-off the day and restart, and I suppose refuel as well”.
Cups dry and morning slipping into afternoon, Pete and Ross prepare themselves for a meeting on an upcoming project. Before they leave, I ask them about their latest release – a third series of their Lounge Chair – which is available to pre-order now.
RB: “It’s an enormous undertaking for Lewis [Macleod, owner, designer and manufacturer at HAME, who manufacture the chairs]. Handmade from beginning to end in Glasgow, there’s only going to be 15 made this time round, which, as much as anything else, speaks to the amount of work and effort that goes into creating each one”.
With thanks to Pete and Ross for the generous offering of their time and insight. Photos captured in the I-AD studio by Richard Gaston using the Moccamaster in off white, Wilfa Svart Grinder and Workshop Coffee filter subscription.
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