Coffee lovers in the UK are a lucky bunch. A recent upswell in the appreciation of great coffee, all around the country, means that there’s never been a better time to order a cup.
The press, blogs and social media all abound with stories of the latest cafes, roasters and, more recently, baristas who are putting energy and resource into improving this widely loved drink, celebrating them as talented harbingers of quality. And it’s true. A lot of work is required to take what is basically a handful of dried legumes, and turn them into a drink that warrants crossing town to taste.
But that quality that coffee lovers seek starts long before any roaster or barista is in the picture. The complexity, clarity and character of flavour that we now expect from roasters and cafes is not the product of the cleverest roasting, the fanciest espresso machine, or even the most ironically mustachioed barista.
Though many of us fail to appreciate it, the quality of what we look for in our daily coffee is established long before the beans arrive in Europe. It’s high time to remind ourselves that the coffee we love began the journey to us a long way away, as the seeds of a single ripe cherry, grown on a healthy coffee tree.
Just as we appreciate that the world’s best chefs are at the mercy of the producers that supply them, so too are roasters and baristas only capable of producing roasts and drinks of a quality befitting their ever-increasing price tag because of the care and diligent work of the world’s best coffee growers.
Coffee is a fickle and fragile fruit. As a tree, it’s susceptible to a wide range of diseases and attacks that can decimate crops: leaf rust, insect infestation and snap frosts to name just a few. During its preparation for export, if not dried correctly, coffee runs the risk of beginning to ferment and rot, resulting in a tainted and unsaleable product. Once dried and sitting in warehouses or on ships, the raw beans undergo organic degradation, turning woody, dry and stale. Even if all these risks are avoided, there’s still a chance that bandits will cut through warehouse locks, or hijack road transportation, and make off with a farmer’s entire year’s work.
Coffee production is hard and risky work, but it needn’t be thankless, too. In reality, it’s thanks to committed growers, millers and exporters that we as roasters and baristas have the opportunity to put that ever increasingly delicious coffee into your cup.
While it’s certainly true that the skill of baristas, and the quality of coffee being served has never been better, it’s important that as coffee lovers think beyond the barista, and give some thought to those responsible for growing our coffee.
When our freshly harvested lots arrive from Kenya and Ethiopia in a few weeks time, I’ll be reminding our baristas of my recent travels to farms there, and all the people that I met. And when customers thank our baristas for the great coffee they serve, I trust that they’ll remain humble and deferential, because we don’t magic up the quality in the customer’s drink, we’re merely a conduit that helps to maintain it from farm to cup.
Director of Operations
I still haven’t made it South of the Equator in my life but I got pretty close this time. A trip to the Huila region of Colombia for two weeks, organised by Café Imports and Fairfield Trading in November 2013, meant that I got within a few hours drive but never broke through. I did however experience a tiny part of a huge country that saw the group I travelled with welcomed openly into farmers’ houses, offered produce straight from the allotment and witness a fraction of the immense amount of work that goes into the cultivation of the coffees we buy.
Workers return from the fields of Omar Cardenas, Finca La Esperanza, Acevedo
Based at San Agustín, a small town at the southern point of Huila, the goal each day was to cup coffees from different groups in the region at the newly built Los Naranjos group cupping lab in the town centre, before visiting farms of coffees that scored highly. With cuppings set up and cleaned down by a pretty slick team of young locals led by Eduardo Sanchez, and all just starting their careers in coffee, we had but one task: cup. Over the course of four mornings more than 50 coffees from the groups of Gigante, Primaveral, Coocentral, Nariño, Palestina, Pitalito and Los Naranjos were assessed and happily each table offered up a few stand-outs that I could really focus on.
Eduardo (in red) and the local cupping team
The first table of the first day threw up a clear winner; a Caturra lot stood above the rest in terms of clarity, sweetness and aroma. Produced by the current president of the Los Naranjos group, it just so happened to be the first farm we visited too; Asturias, owned by Miguel Augusto Ortega, a modest 4 hectare farm just outside of San Agustín. At an altitude of 1650 masl and planted with well established yellow and red Caturra alongside the more disease resistant, newer strain of Castillo, Miguel keeps his two varietals separate at all times through production and processing. Fertilising twice a year, he uses no insecticides to minimise dependancy on chemicals, however, as with all the farms we visited, Roya is present and has to be contained using fungicides when necessary. His farm was impeccable in its presentation with all trees showing healthy and abundant growth in the first few weeks of main harvest, and more importantly the cherries picked showed uniformity in ripeness before pulping. As soon as I could get a quiet word with the guys at Café Imports I expressed my interest and we are now pleased to be able to offer Finca Asturias as our next Single Origin espresso release.
Miguel Augusto Ortega, President of Asociacion Los Naranjos
Ripening Red Caturra
Fully ripe Yellow Caturra
Feeding red and yellow Caturra down through a disc pulper at Finca Asturias
Unfortunately not every farm visited showed the same consistency of ripeness in cherries pre-pulping. Even though each farm washed and skimmed the floaters once pulped, the quality of the finished product at some of the farms will inevitably be debatable due to the amounts of under and overripes that make it through. From a roaster's perspective, no doubt each batch roasted would require a fair amount of hand sorting in the cooling tray to remove these defects.
A mix of ripe red and yellow Caturra with green unripes and black over-ripes
The step of pre-pulping sorting is not the norm across Colombia but one farm is leading the way whose coffee Workshop know well, Finca Tamana. As the rest of the group returned to their respective countries after a week full of cuppings and farm visits with Café Imports, I was lucky enough for Alejandro Renifo of Fairfield Trading to arrange for me to spend two nights at Tamana, his son Sascha acting as interpreter. I already had the pleasure of meeting Elias Roa, Tamana's owner, earlier in the week when we'd stopped in at his other farm in Acevedo but now I was to be a guest under his roof and shown the workings and practices that make Tamana an example for others when it comes to specialty coffee production in Colombia.
Elias cleaning pre-pulp sorting tables
Pre-pulping hand sorting
Working closely with Tim Wendelboe of Nordic Approach, Elias has embraced a number of additional steps and controls required to increase the overall quality of the final cup. Hand sorting, a zinc-lined cherry hopper that is kept spotless, a washing process that makes ample use of the natural spring found on the farm and more besides; all contribute to coffee that has superior cleanliness and clarity of flavour. Paying his workers 50% more than other farms in the area to ensure that the extra steps are duly followed, and as a man with long-term vision and a desire to produce the best coffee he possibly can, Elias is now seeing the results after just a few years hard work. The innovation doesn't stop either. With Wendelboe visiting regularly, further improvements and procedures are being introduced and experiments carried out in areas such as drying, all with the same objective of attaining a higher level of green quality and longevity.
Colombia is somewhat different to most producing countries due to it's production being split into two harvests over the course of the year; the main harvest and the mitaca, a smaller harvest that produces about a third of the main crop. Fairfield Trading explains it as follows:
Colombia has an unique advantage in terms of offering fresh coffee all year around because it has two distinct alternating harvesting seasons. Regions, located to the north, have their main primary harvest during the second semester, and a smaller secondary mitaca harvest during the first semester. The reverse occurs in the regions towards the south
Factors like altitude, luminosity, soil and unique micro-climate patterns cause exceptions to this rule. In these areas the harvest cycle tends to be evenly distributed during the year, or a single short harvest.
Due to the factors mentioned above, farms separated by as little as 100km can be in different harvests, so whilst the region around San Agustín was in full harvest, Tamana, 200km to the north but still in Huila, was in mitaca. Elias only had his core picking team of eight tasked with clearing the mitaca harvest, working the farm in separate lots to a set schedule each day, yet it is not only picking duties this team perform. All are coached in spotting the early signs of roya and combatting Broca so walking through the farm it was obvious the trees remain in great condition regardless of the problems that can befall coffee, a combination of training and teamwork being the most effective weapon.
A few isolated spots of roya, a sign of excellent farm management at Tamana
Elias and Tim are rightly very proud of what they have achieved in the space of a few years at Tamana, so much so that Finca Tamana by Tim Wendelboe has just been released, a beautiful photographic documentation featuring insight into the farming practices that make Tamana the coffee we know and love. Workshop are under no impression that the work is finished at Tamana, however we are glad that we have helped through our purchase of the coffee and look forward to tasting new crops to come and further visits to see Elias and his team at the farm. What we do have is a greater understanding of the amount of effort and dedication that goes into producing coffee both at Tamana and also the work of other farmers around the region of Huila, Colombia. And boy was this little guy awesome.
Easily one of the most gratifying comments we've received in a review, perfectly encapsulating everything we try to instil in our Baristas, thanks to the good folks at Londonist.
One of our first wholesale partners, M1LK is a small brunch style cafe that has gone from strength to strength. Famous nowadays for its stunning breakfasts and sweet cakes, it has also long prided itself the quality of its Workshop Coffee.
Accessible and honest, M1LK epitomises the ideal of commonplace quality. With a playful and bright interior and friendly service, this is a great place to relax during a day. Continually looking to develop what they are doing, M1LK have recently begun running popup dinners - welcoming in exciting new food entrepreneurs.
If you are looking for a reliably exciting place to grab some breakfast or lunch, there are few places we could suggest that would be better than M1LK.
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20 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9RG
020 7494 9831
Mon to Sat – 8am to 5pm
Sun – 9am to 5pm
For those of you on the pulse, you may have noticed that we put a temporary stop on accepting any new wholesale customers. We thought we should take the time to explain the thinking behind this decision.
As you may have noticed from our ‘Where to Drink It’ blog posts, we are working with more and more exciting new cafes around the UK and also internationally. In recent weeks we have been fortunate enough to work with cafes and coffee bars in Oslo, Dublin, Budapest, Stockholm and even further afield. The feedback overall has been very positive and that is something we would like to be able to maintain.
However, as our presence in the coffee industry has grown we have begun to feel the strain. We pride ourselves on the quality and consistency of our coffee and would rather see these standards maintained than suffer at the expense of growing volume. We put a great deal of time and effort into sourcing outstanding green coffee and want to be sure we are always getting the most from it; for ourselves and for our wholesale partners. To do any less would be an injustice to all the care and the hundreds of man hours farmers have put into growing and producing their coffee.
At the moment we feel we can still maintain these high standards, but we are aware that any further growth without a change to our systems may impact upon quality. In terms of quality, first of all we mean the coffee, but secondly and importantly, we also mean that quality of work that our team enjoy. We aim to be a progressive and modern employer; overworking your team for the sake of profit is not a route we ever want to go down.
For those who are keen to stock our coffee at their cafes, restaurants or coffee bars, please do not fret. We are working towards expanding what we can offer and are confident that soon enough we will be opening new accounts again. In the meantime feel free to get in touch with us, as we are still very keen to have those conversations and continue to support those people who appreciate our coffee.
At 7 o'clock this morning, we opened the doors of our third location; our Holborn Coffeebar. Situated at the new Amazon Headquarters, but open to the public, we're looking forward to welcoming guests from 7:00am to 7:00pm, Monday to Friday.
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60a Holborn Viaduct
London, EC1A 2FD
In November last year, during a trip to the Huila region of Colombia, a pair of coffees jumped out at us from the cupping table.
Ticking all the boxes that we look for, being clean, sweet and complex, enquiries were immediately made, even whilst they were still clearing away the cupping, as to farm information and the availability of the coffees. It came as a pleasant surprise to find that the two coffees came not only from neighbouring farms, but farms owned by a brother and sister respectively.
It was obvious that a lot of hard work had been put in to the growing, harvesting and processing of these coffees, and the results really shone in the cup. We snapped them both up, and are very excited to introduce them into our range today. Please meet Finca El Agrado and Finca La Esmeralda, from Edilma and Libardo Piedrahita (respectively) in the Huila region of Colombia.
Available in the Dispensary now: www.workshopcoffee.com
A lovely little video of the Despacio Soundsystem event we helped with in December, featuring our very own Sara and Nico serving drinks (@ 0:33s).
For the longest time, we've had enquiries from around the world asking if and when we'd be able to ship our coffee outside the United Kingdom. And for an equally long time we've wanted to be able to accommodate.
We're very pleased to say that now, we can.
As of this morning, whether you're in Birmingham or Belarus, Uxbridge or Uganda, or any other place around the world, we can take your order, roast your coffee, and send it on.
What are you waiting for? Our Dispensary is open 24/7 at http://www.workshopcoffee.com.
Since April 2011, we at Workshop Coffee Co. have been dedicated to operating at the forefront of London’s coffee community; sourcing, roasting and serving the best coffee possible at our Clerkenwell and Marylebone locations. In March this year -- just six weeks from now -- we’ll be taking the next big step in our journey, opening our Holborn Coffeebar, located at the newly constructed Amazon Headquarters, situated at 60 Holborn Viaduct.
The 1,200 square foot, bisected store space will be dominated by a horseshoe-shaped bar clad in sixteen square metres of Calcutta marble and adorned with twin La Marzocco Linea PBs and an array of Mazzer grinders. A combination of Aeropress brewing, utilising Marco Uber boilers, as well as the addition of the best in Fetco batch brewing and a smattering of EK-43Ts will round out our coffee offering.
With the ability to draw a sliding, lattice-work wall closed through the centre of the bar, dividing the space into stand up coffeebar and a seated gathering area, companies will have the opportunity to hire a meeting or event room, complete with their own bar and Baristas.
A simple, clean and beautiful food offering, coupled with a wall of Workshop Coffee Co. retail coffee, brewers and merchandise will complete the product range. At the heart of the operation, as with everything we do, is our dedication to sourcing, roasting and serving the best coffee possible, to even more of our valued guests across the capital.
We're looking forward to seeing you,
James & Tim.