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.
Back in October, with our new Probat P25 finally in position, we fired it up and got to work. Almost every day since has been spent turning numerous batches in the pursuit of delicious coffee.
The first stage was familiarising ourselves with a new set of controls and a new machine, establishing thresholds, sensitivities and nuances. That took around 600kg of old, green coffee that wasn't fit for release and will never see the light of day, but which served a far greater purpose; it allowed us to begin the trial roasting and profiling of our current range.
We roasted. We rested. We cupped. We repeated.
Cupping countless times each week, over five weeks, we continued to tweak our roast profiles, noting the imperfections with each batch and where improvements could be made. The goal was always to produce coffees not just as good as those being produced in Clerkenwell, but better.
We're delighted to say that, last week, we reached that point.
After a quick move East over the weekend, from today you'll find the whole production team in our Bethnal Green Roastery. And starting tomorrow, on the first full production day in Vyner St., we'll be roasting, packing and distributing some of the best coffee we've had the pleasure of serving.
We hope you enjoy it.
In April of this year, we were handed the keys to 3,500 square foot of expansive, empty space in and amongst the art galleries on the quiet, cobbled road of Vyner Street, East London. As with any major project, the work to get us to that point began long before, but in the seven months since, we've been hard at work. In every corner of the business, we've been making some exciting advancements, from our production department, to changes to our stores and the refinement of the Workshop Coffee brand itself.
First, the Workshop Coffee Roastery. Our new space affords us two important developments in our quality-driven approach: resource and time.
The installation of a brand new 25kg Probat has an immediate effect on our capacity, allowing us to roast larger batches whilst continuing to carefully monitor our output through the ever-reliable Cropster. We've also built a climate-controlled storage room that will allow us to dictate the temperature at which our coffee is stored, diminishing the impact of yet another difficult-to-control variable that has a considerable impact on taste and flavour. Meanwhile, our still new and somewhat unfamiliar ColourTrack laser analysis unit that sits across the room from our roaster provides us another window into better understanding the numerous elements and variables that help us roast the best coffee possible.
The benefits of all of this are already beginning to be seen in the area we are going to be spending even more time on than we currently do: the cupping table. With greater levels of capacity and resource come increased opportunities to cup, taste, evaluate and continue improving every coffee we roast in the space. A renewed focus on this crucial point in our feedback loop can only mean greater consistency in our roasting process and we're excited to showcase the results in the coming weeks and months.
Having had numerous discussions with our wholesale partners, our customers and members of our own team, we've also developed a new, bespoke coffee bag.
We've scrutinised everything, from their shape and height to the design of the label that adorns them, ensuring quality at every stage and level.
The custom-made, resealable bags -- available in all of our stores and online from today -- continue to allow for ongoing freshness and we've sought to unpack the details of each coffee into a clear and approachable grid system to ensure continued quality of information.
Most excitingly, we've also changed our bag size. A switch to our 250g bags has allowed us to create a product that, for 1- and 2-bag orders, is capable of fitting through almost every conveivable letterbox. That means that our online and subscription customers can now expect to arrive home to our freshly roasted coffee ready and waiting for them to enjoy.
As you'll have no doubt already noticed, in the process of improving our packaging we've also taken the opportunity to refine our brand. From today, a new bold and distinctive 'W' will feature on each and every one of our coffee bags. We've also been working over the weekend to bring that new look to our website and into our stores.
In short, a number of things have changed. Our new look will manifest itself in the bigger ways we've already outlined and in the countless details of our everyday operations: signage, aprons, takeaway cups, to name but a few. And, as is always the way with projects such as these, things will continue to adapt and iterate over time as we acquire feedback and learn lessons along the way.
However, fundamentally, nothing has changed. We continue to source, roast and brew the cleanest, sweetest, freshest coffee possible and these advances will allow us to do that better than we ever have.