As a quality focussed roaster it’s inevitable that you create roasted coffee stock that you aren’t willing to sell to customers.
It’s all part of Research and Development, and Quality Control.
For instance, when we want to release a new coffee into our range, we carry out test roasts. We learn as much as we can about the green beans by sample roasting, cupping and tasting, taking density, moisture and water activity readings, colortrack readings and comparing it with our existing coffees and their respective roast recipes. This puts us in good stead to write a plan for the initial roast; the initial gas setting and subsequent gas changes, the temperature at which the batch is charged and the target for end time and for temperature — all provide a guide on how to approach the roast.
However, every coffee behaves differently in the roaster.
Adapting to how the batch of coffee takes on heat and develops momentum up to and through first crack is part of the skill of a roaster. We rest the coffee and taste it time and time again to understand what flavours we're able to highlight and bring out with the roast approach. As we gather more data through roasting more batches of the same coffee, we’re able to tweak that initial recipe to ensure that we’re only ever sending coffee with a complete and round flavour profile out to our customers.
We’ve never wanted to sell either test roasts or blown batches. They simply do not reach our quality criteria. Instead, we’ll use them when training our baristas (particularly when it comes to practicing latte art), to season new coffee burrs or we simply donate it. In many instances though the coffee is still very good and totally enjoyable.
But in AMBER, we’ve found the perfect solution.
By first flash heating the ground coffee before slackening down with cold water, we’ve found that we’re able to achieve a wonderfully round extraction whilst not driving off too much aroma. Avoiding the pitfalls of cold brew such as a stale, oxidised flavour, and the issue of flat flavours that come with hot brewed coffee left to go cold, we’re able to get a nice flavour in the brewed coffee which we can then modify and enhance with the addition of a few ingredients.
Sugar in coffee is considered taboo in some circles, but in cold drinks a little sugar can go a long way to enhancing overall flavour. It increases body and length and helps to balance and round out the edges of an incomplete flavour profile. Lemon juice then marries with the sugar, adds a refreshing bite and lowers the pH of the drink, meaning we gain a twofold benefit of a more intense flavour.
Lemongrass was the last to join the party. We wanted to add something to create more aromatic complexity and bolster AMBER's natural sweetness. Cold drinks without alcohol don’t tend to be intense in aroma, and so by adding a very fragrant and delicate, complementary flavour we lift out a little more of the coffee aroma.
And then we carbonate. Bubbles make everything more fun, but they also make the drink that bit crisper and brighter.
Available in all of our coffeebars and in our online shop, AMBER is refreshing straight from the fridge or over ice. Complex and totally more-ish, it also works superbly as a mixer as well as a drink in its own right. We’ve been enjoying it with aperol and grapefruit bitters, or with a floral gin and a slice of orange.
Last month a group of 10 riders from The 5th Floor boxed up their bikes and headed to Sierra Nevada, Spain, for their annual training camp. In the four days they were there, they covered over 350km of riding and almost 8,900 metres of climbing.
But it was one ride -- one mountain -- that drew them there in the first place. 5th WMN's captain, Sophie, takes us through its ups and downs.
When Luke sent around the route links for our Sierra Nevada trip, my ears pricked at the Pico Veleta. I'd read about it in an edition of Cyclist Magazine: Europe's highest paved road. The profile was pretty much one giant triangle. One enormous Toblerone triangle with absolutely no gaps.
The route looked and sounded tough, but it wasn't until the morning of the ride that it really sunk in. What lay before us was 43km of pure uphill. We drove from our house in Gergal to Granada, about an hour and a half of smooth, winding tarmac flanked by wind and solar farms, and national parks.
We had to ban any Googling of stats on the climb as the nerves started to buzz.
Before we left the house we'd already devoured two decanters of São Judas Tadeu that we'd brought with us, but we still settled in Granada for another.
Delaying and procrastination techniques reached fever pitch.
I can't take you through all four hours of the climb. I'll leave that for your own pilgrimage to the Pico (or, in lieu of that, I'd recommend looking up the 2013 Vuelta, in which Chris Horner sung his swan song).
What I can do is pull out some of the points that will linger in my memory for some time.
The gradient in the first few kilometres edged towards 28%. Whilst the pros pushed back on their saddles and appear to power up, we danced a clunky waggle-weave up the steepest parts, avoiding each other's wheels whilst slowly ticking off the meters. The gradient eased and took us up through cherry groves and pine forest followed by an open moonscape littered with clumps of wild thyme and herbs the higher we went.
The top was higher than the highest ski lift. It's hard to remember that riders don't just ascend this mountain in the summer, but that skiers also fly down it in the winter. The rutted roads from the piste bashers of many winters were evidence of that.
Still closer to the top, the tarmac became gravel, which in turn became dark shale and we, along with a headwind, all arrived at the top. Truly breathtaking.
And then came the 43km descent. It was awesome in the original sense of the word; smooth and empty four-lane roads with sweeping turns and views of turquoise quarry pools and hamlets dusting the mountain sides.
The Pico is a one off – it’s a proper challenge. Especially when climbed the ‘other’ (tougher) way round.
That 43km time segment will remain my lifetime best. I won’t be doing it twice.
As well as their bikes, The 5th Floor also packed our BREW BUNDLE: FOR TWO for their trip to Sierra Nevada. The team are continuing to race throughout Europe and throughout the year. Their Summer Cyclocross Series is already underway and you can stay up-to-date on everything they're doing by visiting their website.
Six years ago, I set up Workshop Coffee at 27 Clerkenwell Road. Taking sledge hammers to walls and bars, we turned the former nightclub into our flagship café, our roastery and, for some time, our headquarters too.
From the day we started, our commitment has always been to giving people access to the best coffee possible and we’ve continued to adapt, change and iterate with every lesson we’ve learned and opportunity that’s presented itself.
It was from Clerkenwell that we opened our first coffeebar, Marylebone, which in turn led to the opening of its subsequent sibling bars, Holborn, Fitzrovia and, most recently White Collar Factory.
It was also where we took on our first wholesale partner, signed up our first subscription customer and sold our first bag of coffee destined for the other side of the world.
We’ve come an incredibly long way as a company and have learnt an awful lot as we’ve continued to grow. And as each year has passed, our commitment to quality has only solidified and our purpose has become increasingly focused.
Our business, our product and our expertise lie with coffee and, because of that, I’ve decided to close our Clerkenwell Cafe.
Clerkenwell and every person that’s walked through its door – whether once, weekly or daily – has been an important part of our journey. And there’s no question that it’s a fantastic location, having become an institution in its own right; a must-visit on any coffee tourists UK or London shortlist and a warm, friendly and familiar haven for weekday workers and weekend brunchers alike.
But I believe that to continue our ongoing commitment to quality, we need to renew our focus on providing the best coffee we can. That means focusing on coffee more intently, removing distractions to make for a better coffee experience and a better overall product in our four coffeebars, for our wholesale partners and for our growing community of online and subscription customers.
We intend to close Clerkenwell on Friday 28th July, with many of the Clerkenwell team continuing to work with me and others in the team in redoubling our efforts in key areas of the business.
Whether you sat with us for one cup or one hundred over the years, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you. You’ve helped to get us to where we are today and provided us the platform to continue onwards.
We look forward to continuing to welcome you to each and all of our coffeebars soon.
-- James Dickson
We started speaking with Pump Street over a year ago, as enormous fans of their approach, their chocolate and their delicious Eccles cakes. The idea of of collaborating was both exciting and, for a plethora of reasons, obvious.
Pump Street is an award-winning bakery in the village of Orford on Suffolk’s Heritage Coast who, after mastering naturally-leavened bread, ventured into chocolate. Importing their beans form high quality single estates and cooperatives around the world, they’re committed to producing some of the UK’s and the world’s finest chocolate. That means sourcing cacao from the best growers at origin.
It’s not difficult to see the parallels.
Our first collaborative bar brings together cocoa beans from Finca Tres Marias in Honduras and our very own Apolo 11 – a coffee from neighbouring Nicaragua grown by John Mark LaRue Palacios on his family farm. In both cases, an enormous amount of work is carried out on the respective farms with regard to growing, harvesting and processing to ensure the raw ingredient each of us ended up working with was of excellent quality.
But before the two were able to combine to become the bar we’re proud to have created, a number of steps still needed to be carried out.
Whilst our green coffee arrives at our Roastery having been graded and sorted at origin, this is something that happens in-house with Pump Street’s cocoa before they then roast the beans in their bread ovens.
Once out of the ovens, the beans are then broken down into husks (the outer portion of the cocoa bean) and the nibs (the segments of the inner cocoa bean and the most basic form of 100% chocolate. The two are then separated during winnowing, a jet of air separating the light, flaky husk from the heavier nibs.
Ground roughly, these nibs were then combined with a small percentage of sugar and cocoa butter and, in this case, ground Apolo 11 Espresso before entering the conching stage. Joanna Brennan, Pump Street’s Co-Founder, explains:
“The conching process takes almost five days for us and is crucial to the quality of the final bars flavour and mouthfeel. It’s a long grinding process that reduces the particle size of both the chocolate and the coffee, as well as releasing unwanted gases”.
Whilst delicious immediately, the finished bars flavour benefits from a further maturation stage, the time allowing the flavours to meld together, and so iron-willed patience was exercised whilst the bar aged for thirty days before tempering and molding.
The final bar – limited to just 300 across our stores and online shop – combines sweet and spicy tasting cocao with the rich, complementary flavours of maple syrup, brown butter and pecans.
It’s decadent, delicious and it was a lot of fun to make.
Pump Street’s Orford Cafe will be serving our Pedregal Espresso to celebrate the collaboration. You can find out how to visit them here. You can purchase our first coffee and chocolate bar from our online shop.
Diehard fans will be making iced coffee all year round, but even espresso and unadulterated black filter coffee drinkers may even be swayed when the mercury hits 30oc.
In our shops, we've always offered espresso and milk shaken over ice for latte drinkers to revert to on a hot day and even developed a sweet and thick take on the classic shakerato (espresso shaken over ice and finished with orange blossom honey).
An incredibly refreshing option that we've also been refining over the years is iced filter, brewed Japanese-style. Brewed double strength with hot water over ice, rather than being brewed with cold water, it makes for a complex, sweet and fruity cold coffee option with the ability to uplift and revitalise on a hot summers' day.
With a couple of small changes to your regular brewing technique, you'll be able to replicate the iced filter brewing technique we employ in our cafes on your kitchen counter.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three years since we opened our Fitzrovia Coffeebar.
In that time we’ve released over 100 coffees (roasting over 175,000 kilos in the process).
We’ve seen two parts of the business move from their original homes. Our original Maylebone Coffeebar decamped a few metres from its first location on Wigmore Street to new digs in St. Chrstopher’s Place. Our Roastery packed up its cupping spoons and headed further east from Clerkenwell to a dedicated and infinitely larger space in Bethnal Green. These changes, and numerous others in between, have kept us busy.
As have plans for our latest opening.
At the beginning of June, we’ll be dialling in our coffees for the first time at our fourth coffeebar and fifth location: Workshop Coffee at White Collar Factory.
Located on Old Street roundabout, the project is billed as one of the most ambitious and progressive workspaces in London and we’ll be serving drinks from a bar -- or bars -- to match. Incorporating two coffeebars, the first will be located on the ground floor of the space, serving delicious coffee to the public throughout the working week. A six-metre-long, basalt-topped bar will take pride of place in the 1,300 sq. ft. coffeebar area. Complemented by a beautifully tactile tiled bar front, it will be adorned with much of the machinery our regulars have come to know so well: a 3-group La Marzocco Linea PB and Nuova Simonelli Mythos 1 Grinders.
The second bar will located on the buildings 17th floor, serving the buildings tenants and offering an incredible view of London's skyline from its terrace (and 150m running track).
Taking a slightly different approach to filter coffee service, we’ll continue to serve two filters from our rotating, seasonal range at any one time. However, both will be brewed using our Fetco batch brewers.
With the space taking inspiration from the work of self-taught French architect and designer, Jean Prouvé, references will be found throughout the building, from its factory-like finish, to the green colour palette that runs throughout and even the coffeebar seating, which will provide space for more than 40 to enjoy the best coffee possible.
There’s lots to be done between now and then, but we’re looking forward to sharing more information with you in the coming weeks.
Considering taking the first step in your career in coffee? Or thinking of taking the next? With a new location comes a need for more motivated team members looking to learn, develop and progress. Find out more on how to join us here.
Last year when we visited Costa Rica we got to taste some fantastic coffees, but we had little opportunity to get out of the cupping lab and into the field. It's a remarkable country with a lot of very unique and special lots of coffee available from single producers, and there are a multitude of processing methods being undertaken.
A lot more affluent than other countries in Central America, it has considerably greater access to finance and an entrepreneurial streak in its producers’ mentality that means that there are a lot of micro-mills or benefices that see a producer not just growing, but also processing and drying their coffees. This control over every stage means that they're able to produce some very high quality lots, build up their brand and reputation as a quality producer and get paid premiums for their extra effort, skill, understanding and hard work.
We were travelling with our friends at Nordic Approach, who have recently employed Marianela to be a permanent staff member on the ground in Costa Rica. Part of a family that have two coffee farms and do their own processing and drying, Marianela is charged with building relationships with producers in Tarrazú who want to improve the quality of their coffees.
Our first day started with cupping around 200 bowls of coffee to get a ‘lay of the land’. As we were visiting quite early in the harvest, the higher altitude lots of coffee were still ripening and so we tasted the earlier pickings to get a sense of what the quality is going to be like this season. A variety of preps and a very wide range of quality levels was fun to taste through, but inevitably led to a lot of palate fatigue (remedied with a couple of evening beers).
The next day we were driving through the Dota valley, towards San Marcos in Tarrazú, to visit Marianela’s family’s beneficio, Don Eli. As well as growing coffee and sugar cane, they have their own processing equipment, raised beds (a good portion under tarpaulin to provide shade, with open sides to offer ventilation) a coffee nursery and a gathering space that would go on to be used that evening for a party with lots of producers from the area.
The sun was not yet fully up and they would only begin to uncover the non-shaded raised beds once they were in sunlight, as overnight the temperatures drop considerably, meaning a lot more humidity in the air first thing. We saw several lots of single varieties, separated out, and a variety of different honey preparations, naturals and fully washed parchment. They were also trying a ‘double soaked’ experiment by lining a big silo with tarpaulin and soaking the washed coffee under clean water overnight. From there, they'd stir it up with a spade to break down the residual mucilage, drain the soak water and then dry the even cleaner parchment.
We saw a delivery of cherry arrive, the back of a truck loaded with many cajuela’s worth of cherry. In Costa Rica the pickers are paid by the cajuela, or bucket, a volumetric system, rather than weight. Picking commodity coffeee to be sold to the large cooperatives in Tarrazú will be worth around 1,000 Colones per cajuela (equates to roughly £1.50), whereas at Don Eli they are paying at least a 30% premium for more selective picking, accepting only ripe cherries. It is very difficult to select solely ripe cherries when there are varieties planted which ripen to different colours. A mixture of Catuaí Rojo and Amarillo (red and yellow) looks scary when you see it all mixed together, as the different hues look at a distance like there is a lot of unripe and semi-ripe cherry mixed in with the ripe.
When they are processing the cherry they first fill a fanega, a cuboid receptacle above the reception tanks, which when its filled with cherry equates to roughly 46kg of exportable green coffee. This way they can keep track of what their outturns may be based on the amount of cherry they buy. From cherry to green coffee that we receive in our roastery, there is about a 5:1 loss of mass.
We continued our journey that day through some outrageously beautiful scenery, listening to the local radio and chatting to Marianela, until we got to ‘Beneficio La Angostura’ to visit Mario Jiminez and his family.
Their set-up and attitude was a masterclass in fantastic practices and attitude. It's rare to see the younger generation want to continue to work in coffee, but Mario’s wife and two daughters are all involved in the coffee production. As well as processing cherry from their own farm they do the processing for three other farmers in the area.
After a quick stop at Finca La Cuesta to see Mauricio Hermenez’s farm, planted with lots of citrus trees, as well as some very healthy looking coffee trees, we had a minor problem with our truck and had to push it up a crumbly incline in the midday sun.
Back on the road, we continued on to see Beneficio La Cruz and their new drying experiments; stacked up raised beds under a huge tarp greenhouse, and their pine warehouse for storing their top quality lots in VIP conditions. Both farms were looking at replanting sections with hardy varieties like Villalobos and Obata, and were curious at to whether any of us on the trip had good experiences with these varieties from other origins. It is such a complex situation as there are so many other factors at play that we would never suggest that a farmer should or shouldn’t grow a particular type of coffee or do a particular style of processing, as our experience is in roasting and not agronomy. Longer term projects that can be pre-financed and contracted are something that we would be interested in doing with certain producers down the line, but we are very much there to learn from them as much as we can.
After seeing the small farms and micro-mills, we had a slight change of pace checking out the facilities at Montañas del Diamante. Here things are done on a much bigger scale, with some very clean and even drying patios, lots of steel raised beds on wheels, a multi-tiered structure to process greater volumes of coffee, and some slowly rotating, low temperature mechanical dryers working away.
After a long and hot day in the sun seeing a whole variety of farming and processing approaches, we returned to Beneficio Don Eli to meet with some more of the producers that Nordic Approach have been working with, as well as many more who are keen to establish a more direct relationship with their buyers. After some lengthy introductions and a very productive Q&A session with the farmers, we drank some Cacique (a local sugar cane liquor), handed round beers, ate heartily and listened to local music.
One of the farmers in attendance was Roger Ureña. He had recently purchased a farm at 2,000m called Santa Teresa, and was very keen to have us visit and see what he is doing to produce very high quality lots.
For the last few years Roger has been replanting his sizeable farm with lots of different varieties, and is currently producing Catuaí, Typica Mejorado, Bourbon and Villalobos, and a little Geisha, with Pacamara and Rume Sudan varieties fruiting in two harvest’s time.
For the last seven years he has been doing research into other farmers’ micro-mills to learn about the best practices for using eco-pulpers and how to dry the coffee properly when doing a variety of preparations. Their normal protocols see them leaving 10% of the mucilage on after pulping and using the demucilagor, but they are doing some double washed preparations as an experiment this year with a very selective harvest. As well as coffee, he grows avocados and is working with an agronomist towards the end goal of being completely carbon neutral.
Since returning from Costa Rica, we've tasted further pre-shipment samples that have got us rather excited about the quality and variety of coffees coming out of the country this year. We’re really excited to see them arrive in 6-8 weeks’ time and will be available to order shortly after that.
The Tempest Two's latest excursion took them from the city lights of London to the golden sands of The Sahara. Not ones to do anything the easy (or familiar) way, they decided to make their way there on motorbikes. The fact that they had no experience on or license to drive one less than two weeks before departing was just a detail.
The open road ahead. The wind whistling through your hair. The roar of a motorbike as you ride into the sunset.
It's an idyllic scene, but a far-fetched fantasy, surely?
Earlier this year, we decided to try and turn a childhood dream into a reality. With zero motorbiking experience, we'd look to mount two of the most rugged and impressive motorbikes on the market and ride them from London to the Sahara Desert in under two weeks.
Our journey began in the glamorous setting of a Welwyn Garden City motorcycle centre. The idyllic dream was immediately crushed as we took part in our first lesson in the freezing cold January rain. The ripped denim jeans of our imaginations were in fact a pair of waterproof trousers. The fitted leather jackets of motorcycle legend turned out to be the more practical and less becoming high-vis waistcoat. We put our egos to one side and dedicated ourselves to the cause and hit the open roads.
To make things more interesting and increase the pressure, we'd given ourselves just nine days from our first lesson to pass both parts of the test. After that we'd be leaving for The Sahara. The look on our instructors face when we disclosed this information, summed up perfectly how most people viewed this endeavour: arrogant, stupid and highly unlikely.
But by the end of day nine, we'd passed and were now fully-fledged hog-riders. Our bikes were delivered to London while we finalised a rough-route through Spain and on to Morocco at the same time we packed our panniers with essentials that included a few clothes, our cameras, bike customs documents, an AeroPress, our Porlex Hand Grinder and two bags of of Nyarusiza.
We gingerly pulled away from our starting point in West London and began the ride to Portsmouth where we'd board a ferry to Bilbao and begin our route south.
Northern Spain was the ultimate gateway to our journey. After a two hour ride from Bilbao, we climbed the Cantabria mountain range and found ourselves on the roof of Rioja drinking in the stunning panoramic view of what felt like the entire region. Vineyards and bodegas spanned beyond the horizon, and we were treated to a 20-minute hairpin descent down into the valley.
We spent that evening in Logrono, the main city of Rioja, where we spent the night wandering the cobbled backstreets of the city. The culinary culture here was not about sit-down meals, but meandering your way through the hundreds of tapas bars that lined the streets, spending 10 minutes in one, five in another, until you are suitably full. Our host’s family owned the oldest tapas bar in Logrono, which served nothing but garlic mushrooms and prawns on bread. This was a prevalent theme, with establishments choosing to do one thing incredibly well and the results were testament to this way of thinking.
Our next destination was the small town of Neuvalos in the Zaragoza region, and what we expected to be a simple three-hour stint.
We were wrong.
This was the first time in our one day riding career that we'd experienced strong winds. As we passed into the flat plains of central Spain, the winds grew in strength and ferocity. What started as a series of mildly uncomfortable gusts soon evolved into full blown crosswinds that forced us from one side of the road to the other. We had absolutely no control over our position on the road. The best we could do to keep ourselves upright was reduce our speed and lean at an angle in a bid to counteract the force.
The conditions forced us to leave the more direct major roads and take a quieter, more meandering route that would also see us coming up against fewer cars. This quickly became one of the best decisions we made on the entire trip as we spent the next 2 hours weaving and winding through some of the most stunning scenery we've had the pleasure of finding ourselves amongst. Ancient looking towns, derelict and weather worn. The sun setting around us, brushing the landscape with a pink and orange filter. Not one other person in sight. It was moments like this we'd hoped for when planning the trip, and we'd stumbled upon it entirely by chance.
It wasn't long until we realised that we'd wildly underestimated the distances we'd set out for ourselves on a daily basis. We found ourselves needing to stop far more regularly than planned to take a breather from the road. When riding a motorbike (and especially when only in your second week of doing so), you're concentrating every second of every minute, constantly engaged and alert. There's no zoning out and going into autopilot. It's mentally and physically tiring and so we found ourselves pulling in at the side of the road every two to three hours to stop, take stock and relax. Brewing up a couple of cups of coffee as we did so was the perfect respite and an ideal antidote.
Our border crossing into Morocco was nothing short of chaos. Our broken Spanish wasn't cutting it with the officials and so, after 20 minutes trying to muddle our way through the process alone, enlisted the help of one of the many locals offering their services. We were guided through customs with ease as he filled out our forms and we paid him his dues before continuing onwards.
It took us a total of three hours to gain entry into Morocco, but we had ground to cover and so set off through Nador and into the countryside. From the pristine Spanish coastal cities of a few hours ago, we now found ourselves weaving between the oppressive and frenetic Moroccan traffic. Horns, shouts, dust and goats filled every street and it felt incredible to be a part of.
We had some long hours on the bike ahead, but the intensity and sheer beauty of Morocco was engrossing. Growing in confidence on the bikes, we were starting to push them harder and further, with the long, empty roads through the barren desert offering the perfect runways to open up the throttle and have some fun.
We were struck by the beauty of abandoned towns, expansive canyons and lush-green oasis’, but more than anything else we were struck by the reception we received from the local people. Everyone, whether a child, elderly person or policeman, would smile and wave at us. Their outlook was infectiously positive and positively infectious.
One such person was a gentleman called Sayed. We met Sayed in the small town of Midelt. Struggling to string a conversation together, we bastardised Arabic, French and English in equal measure as we attempted to form a sentence or two. But the presentation of a bag of coffee beans and a gesture between ourselves and Sayed said everything it needed to. The three of us sat back together and watched the road and its distinct lack of traffic. It gave us a real appreciation for the simplicity and speed of life there, and the enjoyment taken from the simple things.
Seven days and over 2,000 miles from a cold, damp London, we found ourselves in the Moroccan town of Merzougha facing out onto its towering orange dunes and standing under its bright and intense sun. Our two Triumph’s had taken us unfalteringly across continents and helped to take us from complete novices to confident riders with a library of memories.
The goal of this trip was not just to reach a destination, but to show people that you don’t have to be an experienced rider to take on this sort of adventure. Many people are intimidated by the unknown, whether that's roads, routes, countries or people. What each of our experiences continues to teach us is that the best way to overcome that trepidation or uneasiness is to get out there and get to turn the unfamiliar into the familiar.
We take pride in seeing our coffee served in a variety of destinations not just in London, but all over the UK and indeed the world. One such place is Pot Kettle Black, or PKB as it's more commonly known.
Since they opened in 2014, the team have been serving Workshop Coffee in the beautiful Victorian surrounds of their coffee shop in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.
Jon Wilkin, one of the Founders of PKB, sat down with us to offer an insight into the past three years and hint at what might be on the horizon in the next three.
So, how did it all begin?
Our story began through the misfortune of injury. Myself and (PKB Co-Founder) Mark are professional rugby players. Mark returned from a stint playing rugby in Sydney and was overwhelmed by the quality and choice of independent speciality coffee operations over there. He was so passionate about the lack of quality in this area in the North-West that we began to learn, listen and love the beauty of great coffee.
At this point Mark suffered a career-threatening injury to his knee and that was probably the catalyst PKB's inception. A year of sampling the market, planning and understanding the craft of coffee came next and, as fortune or misfortune would have it, I then became badly injured.
We acquired a site and I project managed the build whilst Mark was back on the pitch. That year, in October 2014, we won a huge rugby competition and PKB Barton Arcade opened its doors.
We held our breath and waited for the customers. I have never been more nervous.
What came before coffee for you?
Aside from our sporting careers, myself and Mark bonded over great design, food, wine and a social life that was populated by events attached to these things. We are both very social guys and central to everything we did prior to PKB was about enjoying ourselves and refining our tastes; that is essentially what we still do now but with what is probably a more commercial approach.
I had some experience of opening my own business and had made lots of mistakes, too, which really helped us in the early stages I think. We both have very similar interests and enjoy fine dining as much as a few drinks. We just love great things and the many forms those great things can take.
What sets PKB apart?
Our location and the quality of what we put out. We're set in a beautiful Victorian Arcade in Central Manchester. After the Arndale bomb in the city, most glass buildings in the area were damaged beyond repair but the arcade survived and, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Manchester -- ornate iron balconies, huge glass domes and a level of design that its becoming increasingly rare to find.
We have the most prominent site within the arcade and sit alongside an amazing gents Barbers, Spanish Deli and clothes shop. There’s a great little vibe in the arcade and its blossomed since we took a punt on what had previously been a relatively unsuccessful space.
The arcade is now a destination for PKB customers and tourists alike. I honestly believe the quality of our coffee and brunch is the highest in Manchester. There are some excellent places to eat and drink in the city, but we've recently been voted the best Coffee Shop/Tea Room in the 2016 Food and Drink awards. That’s all down to the amazing coffee and food we serve and the quality of the products we use.
Quite simply good things in one end and minimal processes between mean we can bring great products to the table.
What led you to Workshop Coffee?
We looked around for 18 months and didn’t taste an espresso with so much depth of flavour and that;s true of every iteration we've had since. We love the coffee and it’s become an amazing part of our business. As we’ve grown, we have continually revisited how to get the best out of the beans you guys deliver through e-mails, phone calls and training sessions.
It’s a continual process.
We're passionate about delivering speciality coffee to people in unusual locations. We're not based in an offbeat location or in an area surrounded by similar industries. We are slap-bang in the middle of commercial chain land. We have 1 litre caramel macchiatos to our left and hot, floppy sandwiches to our right. We want to grow and present an alternative to the occasionally soulless British high street.
Barton Arcade has taught us that location is crucial. We have just about agreed to launch our second site and we couldn’t be more excited about where it is. I can’t give too much away at this stage, but it's Manchester again and we just can’t wait to give the people in that area the PKB experience.
Our biggest challenge remains getting Marks music off the playlist.
14 Barton Arcade, Deansgate, Manchester. M3 2BW
Weekdays: 8:00am – 7:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Sunday: 10:00am - 5:00pm
This February we returned to El Salvador with our good friends at Nordic Approach to visit producers with whom we’ve been working with for five consecutive seasons. First on our itinerary was a visit to see Jose Antonio and Andreas Salaverria at their mill, Las Cruces, up in the Santa Ana region of El Salvador, along the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range.
After years of producers in Central America battling with leaf rust, it was fantastic to see their two main estates, Finca Santa Rita and Finca San Francisco, looking green, lush and healthy. By maintaining healthy trees and root stocks with ingenious pruning techniques and shade management, the brothers work with their farm managers and teams of highly trained, well-incentivised pickers to produce truckloads of beautifully uniform and ripe cherry. They process the fruit in a multitude of different ways, from full naturals, honeys and pulped naturals, to washed and soaked preparations, and by working cleanly and carefully they're able to offer a wide range of unique and interesting flavour profiles.
Through proper drying the coffees always hold up fantastically well, tasting sweet and layered even after a year has elapsed from harvesting -- somewhat remarkable for coffees from El Salvador. The final stages of quality refinement in the dry mill utilise density and colour sorters, meaning that their coffees are a joy to work with in the roastery as they are so clean and uniform.
Jose Antonio is the agronomist at Las Cruces, and Andreas the cupper. Having the two of them present in their cupping lab along with their quality control team, Raoul and Rosio, managing the samples and turning the tables offers a chance for informed discussion and feedback in every aspect from seed to cup, which for us thoroughly enriches the enjoyment of a cup of coffee.
Something we felt very privileged to be a part of was cupping their ‘Variety Garden’. The table was made up of twenty or so different varieties of coffee cherries grown in similar conditions on one of their farms, they're roasted and prepared in the same way allowing us to really hone in on what flavour traits are brought about via the coffee’s genetics, and what suits their soil and microclimate.
Alongside some fantastic soaked lots and a handful of really unique honey processed coffees, we tasted some superb naturals, lovely washed lots and some bizarre and fun cups of SL28 and Geisha Rojo from the brothers.
As well as seeing the JASAL group in Santa Ana we had to travel to Usulután to see Gilberto Baraona at Los Pirineos. Somewhat of a coffee celebrity, Gilberto is animated and commands the room with an infectious personality and unrivalled energy.
Last year it took us 45 minutes to drive from the closest petrol station up to the Los Pirineos processing mill (a short commute compared to the two days it took his grandfather by ox 60 years ago), but it was all of seven minutes this year thanks to the new road that Gilberto had built by using lots and lots of dynamite. He spoke animatedly about his plans for the farm, increasing efficiency, yields, flavour and all sorts of weird and wonderful new projects whilst we were squeezed in the back of an ATV getting an ‘off road back massage’.
In a completely different manner to the Salaverrias, Gilberto is tackling rust by replanting whole new areas of his farms and has averaged 100,000 trees each year over the last few years. 2016 saw him put 500,000 new seedlings from his nursery into the ground, a staggering number of new trees, predominantly of the Pacamara variety, in an attempt to start fresh with healthy plants.
Witnessing the many drying beds of honey processed coffee at Los Pirineos is quite incredible. By manipulating the methods of turning the sticky parchment over in the sun or in the shade, the workers are able to create cleaner or darker hues of fermenting sugars, which results in very distinctly white, yellow, red or ‘black’ honey processed coffee. It's often the case that in the cup this is not so tightly correlated with ‘funkiness’ or ‘processing flavour’; some white honeys can be very funky and some red honeys impeccably clean. The sheer volume of microlots being prepared in unique manners under such scrutiny is very impressive, and we are looking forward to receiving samples from this year’s harvest.
What with growing coffee at some of the highest altitudes in the region we were a little too early to taste anything from the main portion of this year’s harvest. Whilst the higher altitude results in slower fruit maturation (making for a more complex flavour in your cup) it also means that Gilberto’s crops are under more threat from thieves compared to his neighbours. They will be the last thing left to steal once everyone else is done picking and processing, and so we witnessed a lot of security patrolling his precious crops.
Visiting the two very different producers was both informative and insightful, but without the company of Nordic Approach many questions would have been left unasked and unanswered. Morten is a fantastic person to be around when talking to producers and when cupping, and through osmosis and proximity we absorbed a lot of information we were more than eager to return with and share with our inquisitive Baristas and Bar Backs.
Our El Salvadorean options from this season will be arriving in Vyner St. in the coming weeks and months and we'll be updating you on their progress as we profile them ready for release.
Rest assured, there will be some delicious coffees coming your way.