Saturday 6th April 2019 saw the return of The 5th Floor Track Day for the fourth consecutive year.
Kicking off race season for many of London's track cycling teams, the event was hosted once again at Herne Hill Velodrome -- one of the oldest cycling tracks in the world. Built in 1891, the track is no stranger to organised races and large crowds, having played host to thousands of cycling events over the years, including the track cycling event in the 1948 Olympics.
On this particularly grey Spring afternoon, though, the atmosphere was as much convivial as competitive. Music, catch-ups, beer and, of course, coffee provided the backdrop to an afternoon of fast, furious, but ultimately fun, bike racing. It also saw the official launch of The 5th Floor's 2019 kit.
A snapshot of the day can be viewed below, courtesy of our very own Mikey Gatineau.
An enormous thank you to the thousands of visitors that stopped past stand H01 at this years London Coffee Festival. It was an absolute pleasure to catch-up with a myriad of friendly and familiar faces, including long-time wholesale partners and coffeebar regulars, as well as introduce ourselves and our seasonal coffee range to crowds of first-time Workshop Coffee drinkers.
Three filter coffees stood side by side throughout the weekend. Cousins Luis Alfonso and Felipe provided two contrasting Ecuadorian brews, with Luis' offering flavours of brown sugar, cashew, plum and butterscotch. Felipe's fully washed Caturra, on the other hand, brought blackberry and blueberry flavours to the table and proved popular with attendees throughout the weekend. Completing the trio was Pedro Nel Trujillo, our latest Colombian release. A sweet and mild cup with hints of fleshy pear and kiwi, festival-goers were some of the first to enjoy this roast from Pedro Nel's farm, Finca El Jardín, in the Huila region.
As always, we aimed to keep things simple. Brewing on the continually clean, clear and consistent Moccamaster autobrewer, our focus across the festival was on having rich and meaningful conversations, which we absolutely did and thoroughly enjoyed.
Thank you once again for your time, your feedback and your continued support.
Until next time.
It's hard to believe that it's been half a decade since we opened what was, in 2013, our second ever coffeebar.
World-class in terms of its design, its levels of customer service and the quality of the tens of thousands of coffees we've served over the past five years, we had high hopes for what we'd be able to do in a new area of the city.
However, the broader building development has never quite delivered on its initial promises of becoming a thriving commuter hub, surrounded by a host of exciting, like-minded operators. This has, in turn, made it increasingly difficult to justify the site long-term and so we've made the difficult, but sensible, decision to close the doors for the final time on Friday 8th March, 2019.
We're immensely grateful to the Holborn community and our wonderful cohort of regular guests for joining us over the years and are sad to be saying goodbye. We hope to see as many of you as possible for at least one last brew over the next week.
In the meantime, we are actively looking for new coffeebar locations both in the area and further afield. The Holborn team will be joining the teams at our other London coffeebar locations, as well as our growing Wholesale Training Team and our Masterclasses will now take place at our Roastery in Bethnal Green.
All that remains is to thank the Holborn team, past and present, for their enthusiasm and hard work on the Viaduct over the years. And, of course, to thank you, our guests, for your continued support.
The closest coffeebar to our Holborn location is Workshop Coffee at White Collar Factory, less than one mile away. You can see our full list of cofffeebars here. If you have any questions or require any additional information on our Holborn Coffeebar, please contact us here.
Our ‘Love Your Work’ profile series sets out to discover and showcase individuals, organisations and initiatives, all of whom share our commitment to quality.
To kick off 2019, we made the short trip from our Roastery in Bethnal Green up to the railway arches of Hackney Downs, East London, to visit award-winning soda company Square Root Soda. After a tour of the soda works and a brief introduction to the brewing process, we nipped across the street to the Pembury Tavern (owned by Five Points Brewing Company), to sit down with Square Root co-founder, Robyn Simms.
Along with her partner, Ed Taylor, Robyn founded Square Root in 2012 having spotted a gap in the market for an interesting non-alcoholic drink bursting with flavour. Their backgrounds in breweries and bars provided the perfect launch pad and over the last six years the brand's sodas have grown in popularity, both across London and further afield.Take us back to the beginning, where did the idea for Square Root Soda come from?
So you have to think back to early 2012, before there were hundreds of craft breweries in London. Ed was working at one of the first twenty or so breweries - Redemption - and I was working at a beer bar called The Euston Tap. The Five Points and Pressure Drop Breweries had also just opened, and we were very much getting involved in this fast growing brewing scene. Ed then moved to Howling Hops, which was a bar as well as a brewery, and because of that it became a bit of an unofficial meeting point most weekdays for everyone who worked at the three breweries. I’d head there too, after my shifts, and it was really interesting to talk to people who were starting something and making a physical product.
Ed and I were already making drinks at home, so we started to think about doing our own thing and what that might be. I looked at what we offered at the Euston Tap to try and work out what would be a bit different - there were twenty keg beers, eight kasks, a hundred different beers in the fridge, and then coke and diet coke. That was the extent of the non-alcoholic offering. It occurred to us that no one was really doing soft drinks in an interesting way and we thought there was a real opportunity there.
Around the same time, we were running a market stall on the weekends in Haringey where we sold a whole load of different things we’d made. I tried my hand at being a baker, but I was terrible at it - the cakes and sweets I made were never very popular, but our ginger beer would always sell out. Market stalls are a really great, low-key way of trying things out, but they can also be quite brutal - if someone is unhappy with the thing they’ve bought, they’ll tell you!And that eventually brought you to Hackney Downs?
Yes, but we’re actually moving to a much bigger space in Walthamstow in a few months time. We desperately need more space - right now, for example, we’ve got five huge pallets of fruit outside the arches which we need to squeeze inside tonight. This means shifting everything around inside the warehouse just so we can fit them in. It’s not ideal.
Square Root’s core range of Lemonade, Ginger Beer, Root Beer and Cola.How have you divided up your and Ed’s roles within the company?
We do quite different, but complementary things. I do a lot of work with people, both in terms of creating the team we have and the atmosphere within it. It’s definitely something I’ve had to learn to enjoy doing. What I did was to think back to past jobs I’ve had in bars and restaurants, and then tried to take the positive aspects from those and apply them to Square Root.
One of the things I took from my time working in restaurants was that at some point in between service, everyone would stop and sit down to eat a meal together. It’s a really great way to get to know other people on the team who you might not be working with directly during the day. So, from day one at Square Root, we’ve always sat down and had lunch together as a team. One member of the team will cook it during the morning and then at lunchtime the bottling line is switched off and we all share a meal together.
I also do a lot of the future planning. The way we often describe it is, I raise the roof, and Ed fills it up. He does all the technical stuff; our design work, the maintenance of our production equipment - that kind of thing.And what does a typical day look like for you, if there is such a thing?
You’re right, we don’t really have a ‘typical’ day, but our weeks tend to work on the same sort of schedule. Monday is probably the most interesting day, and a lot of the time our staff don’t really know what to expect when they arrive at the arches first thing. Yesterday [a Monday], for example, everyone got there and there were two tonnes of Sicilian citrus fruit, which had arrived overnight.
Production-wise, most days we’ll have six members of the team running the bottling line, and then two more creating the next day’s drink. We want everything to taste as fresh as it can, so we make the drink one day, leave it overnight to chill down to the right temperature, and then carbonate and bottle it the next day. This way we’re capturing the freshest flavours we can.
A lot of other soft drinks companies out there don’t actually make their own product. What they really do is compile a recipe, so they’ll have lemon juice sent to them by one company, sugar syrup sent to them from another company, and then they’ll mix it all together and bottle it up. We’re completely different in that we create all of our drinks from scratch. In our opinion, it makes for a far superior tasting drink, and we think that’s the only way to do it.
A member of the Square Root team working on the bottling line. When the business moves to new premises later this year, they plan to install an automated bottling line which will not only speed the bottling process up, but increase the quality of the finished product.Could you describe the process a recipe goes through, from initial inspiration to entering production?
I’d say our main source of inspiration comes from growers. A lot of the time we’ll randomly come across, or be introduced to, someone who grows something which we think will taste interesting. And other times, it’s from having really good relationships with the farmers we’re already working with. Last year, for example, we found out that our pear farmer also had a small grove of quince trees. They weren’t doing anything with them so we took them and we made a drink for Little Duck, a small brand which makes shrub and vinegar-based drinks, and that just came about from a conversation with the farmer after he’d delivered some fruit at six o’clock in the morning.
Largely, the drinks ideas either come from finding an interesting ingredient, or, rather selfishly, from wanting to fulfill a personal need. I stopped drinking last January and I spent the year really missing drinks which have more of an adult, or bitter, flavour. So for Christmas we created a range of non-alcoholic cocktails which were my answer to craving those flavours, especially around Christmas time. At least that was my aim when I started the project. In the end, I became too busy to work on it myself, so I left it with the team and they did an amazing job.
The team are great at coming up with ideas and suggesting drinks we might do. Every year we do a special project as a bit of fun and as a Christmas gift for our customers - each team member gets to invent their own flavour of soda and bring it through to a finished product. We packaged them up as our ‘Twelve Sodas of Christmas’, shipped them out, and asked people to send us feedback, voting for their favourite.
We had some really strange flavours last year. I tried to go traditional and did mince pie, but one of our team, Jake, went for the most out there drink he could think of: fried egg sandwich.
To be fair to him, he absolutely nailed the concept, it tasted exactly like a fried egg sandwich. I wouldn’t say it was a nice drink though.It certainly sounds interesting, if not particularly delicious. And how about the process itself? Can you run us through how you actually produce your sodas?
Sure. The easiest one to go through is probably our lemonade because it has the least ingredients.
It all starts with the lemons, which come from a small family farm in Sicily, and once they’re picked they’re shipped to us and arrive three days later. As soon as they arrive, our team will start to rind them [removing the peel] and then we put all of that rind in sugar syrup and cook it at a really low temperature to get all the natural oils out of the rind. Because the lemons are completely untreated, it’s safe to use the whole fruit and they’re the most incredible lemons, so it would be a shame not to use every part.
Next, we’ll juice the lemons and send off what’s left - the pith - for composting. We then sieve out the rind from the sugar syrup and add in the lemon juice. It’s then just a case of adding the right amount of water according to the recipe.
The lemonade then gets put in a big tank overnight to be chilled down to the right temperature. The next morning, we switch on the bottling line and the soda gets carbonated, filled, capped, pasteurised and labelled. Because we’re based in London, we don’t have a huge stock holding, so we try and schedule orders so that they leave us in the same week they’re bottled. This means that you could buy our lemonade and the fruit might’ve been picked as early as eight days ago.
A bottle of Square Root's lemonade makes its way along the bottling line. Square Root's sodas can go from fruit on a tree to being sipped by a customer in as little as eight days.What’s the hardest thing you’ve found about running your own business?
That’s a very good question. I think the hardest thing is learning to switch off. I’m in a fairly unique position in that I run a business with my partner, who I also live with, so it’s really difficult to find time where we’re not talking about what we’re doing tomorrow or what the next big project should be.But, conversely, does working with your partner also have some advantages?
Without a doubt, the main one being the support they can offer. Because we know each other so well, it’s awesome to know that you can say anything, do anything, and they’ll have your back. Also, because we spend so much time talking about work, we’re in the same mind frame. One of us might say “How about we try this?” and the other person will go “I was just thinking the same thing!”Hackney seems to be a real hotbed for both small and established food and drink businesses. How important has it been to be surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs and business owners?
Really important. I’d say our first five customers were within a mile away of where we’re sat now, and those five businesses are still our customers seven years later. Hackney is such an incredible place to meet people, share ideas and build really good relationships with those around you.
The collaborations we’ve done with other brands are primarily thanks to that proximity and those long-standing relationships. Because Ed and I have a background in beer, where there are so many collaborations going on, we thought "why shouldn’t we get involved, too?". We’re a small enough business that I can think up a crazy idea one night, and start work on it the next morning.
The first people we collaborated with were Pressure Drop Brewery, who used to be very close to here. The idea came from trying one of their beers and saying “This beer is really nice, what if we added some ginger and lime to it?”. We were both small enough businesses at the time that we could just go ahead and try it. Qe had nothing to lose.
The original beer was a 6.9% West Coast IPA - super citrusy and hoppy, and interestingly we actually added more hops, and then loads of Meyer lemons, which are a West Coast variety of lemon. It was essentially like blending it with lemonade and it made for a delicious 0.5% shandy.
Lemons at dawn. Square Root's lemons come from a small family farm in Sicily. To ensure the freshest flavour, the lemons are picked and arrive in London just three days later.And from here, how would you like to see Square Root grow in the years to come?
Our main aim is to grow the business without compromising on any of the things which we think make our sodas a really special product. We’ll be moving to a much larger space later this year and at the same time investing in an automated bottling line. This will allow us to not only speed up that area of production considerably, but also to make improvements to the quality of the product which we wouldn’t have been able to get doing it manually. In terms of making the actual drinks, we’re going to be doing that exactly the same way, so at five o’clock on a Monday we’re still going to be covered head to toe in lemon pulp.Those things that make your sodas special - what do you think they are?
The two key elements for us are direct sourcing and freshness. This means buying directly from farmers so that we know we’re getting really fresh fruit, and then processing that fruit as quickly as possible, so that all the juices going into the soda are as fresh as they can be. It’s as simple as that really and those are two things we won’t compromise on.Which other London brands or businesses do you admire, or look to for inspiration?
I absolutely adore Lillie who runs London Borough of Jam. She was doing jam way before we were doing soda and she has a really amazing approach to seasonality and quality. She's definitely part of our inspiration for making a product which doesn’t conform to what people expect it to be. She doesn’t make hard set jams and won’t use loads of pectin or sugar to make them solid. They’re soft and runny and taste intensely of the fruit they’re made from.
I’m also forever in love with E5 Bakehouse. The more they do, the more impressed I am with their capacity to take the whole process of bread making in-house. They grow their own grain and they even have their own mill now. They’re really in control of the whole process.
I'd love to one day to have a little farm where we could grow some experimental produce. I don’t think we could ever grow enough to supply the quantities we’d need, but something small scale would be fantastic. I don’t have the best track record with growing plants though. A few years ago I put together a little herb box to try and grow some stuff for the team to eat at lunchtime, but two days later someone had overturned it and spilled the soil out onto the street, so I gave up.
With thanks to Robyn for her time and the entire Square Root team for welcoming us to their soda works. Square Root’s sodas are served in cafés, bars and restaurants across London (including our own coffeebars), the UK and they’re also available to purchase directly from their website.
We’ll be roasting right up until Friday 21st December in Bethnal Green until we draw down the shutters for a short Christmas break.
If you're in London between Christmas and New Year, you can still join us for a brew (or to top-up on coffee beans) across three of our coffeebars. We'll also be in the Roastery fulfilling coffee and hardware orders.
A full list of our opening times are below:
Marylebone + Fitzrovia Coffeebars
24th December: 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
25th + 26th December: Closed
27th - 31st December: 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
1st January: Closed
2nd January: 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Workshop Coffee at The Pilgrm
24th December: 7:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
25th + 26th December: Closed
27th - 31st December: Open 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
1st January: Closed
2nd January: 7:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
24th December: 7:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
25th December - 1st January: Closed
2nd January: 7:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Workshop Coffee at White Collar Factory
24th December: 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
25th December - 1st January: Closed
2nd January: 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
21st December: Open as usual
22nd - 26th December: Closed
27th + 28th December: Open, roasting and dispatching
29th December - 1st January: Closed
2nd January: Open as usual
Thanks, as always, for your support throughout the year. We hope you enjoy a well-deserved break and look forward to seeing and serving you more delicious coffee in 2019.
All the best,
The Workshop Coffee team
Our ‘Love Your Work’ profile series sets out to discover and showcase individuals, organisations and initiatives, all of whom share our commitment to quality.
For the December instalment, we met up with Pump Street Bakery and Chocolate co-founder Joanna Brennan at our Roastery in Bethnal Green. Along with her father, Chris, Joanna opened Pump Street Bakery in the Suffolk coastal town of Orford in 2010, and since then they’ve also added a Chocolate arm to the business.
We discuss how a family interest in trying out new types of bread, and then chocolate, has grown from its remote Suffolk beginnings into a brand with an international presence, what values the Bakery and Chocolate businesses share, and why starting the business in the quiet town of Orford had a whole host of advantages.
Where did it all begin for Pump Street Bakery and Chocolate?
So the bakery came first, and it all really began with better bread being more available. As a family, we were trying bread we hadn’t had access to before – whether it was going to Paris and eating excellent baguettes, or to London and trying the sourdough from St. John Bakery. That really piqued my father and I’s interest – mine from an eating perspective, and his from a making perspective, and so he set out to try and make some of this bread. I was fairly sceptical because I thought this was something you could only do in a professional bakery, but he really set his mind to it and was soon upgrading our home oven and mixer so that he could make better and better bread. Eventually, he got really good at it, and was making far too much bread - more than we could eat ourselves, and even more than we could give away to friends and family.
So my mum encouraged him to sell it at our local country market, which is in Orford on Saturday mornings. He would bake all through the night on Friday and then go to the market the next day with whatever loaf he had decided to make that week, often trying out new recipes. He always sold out, and eventually people were even queuing to get into the town hall before it opened so they could make sure they got their bread. We were watching this going on both in disbelief and excitement, and that was when we thought this could actually become something. So we set about coming up with a plan, whereby I would leave my job as a speech therapist, and my dad would be the baker, and when we found this space in Orford village square, that was when it all solidified and we had to make a decision. It took a long time to renovate the space and build a commercial bakery with all the proper equipment and we opened in November 2010 as a bakery and café. As it is now, but a lot quieter!
The now iconic pink facade and logo of Pump Street Bakery in Orford, Suffolk.
For the first few years we were trying out lots of different things, slowly adding new products to the range, and my dad was hiring a team of bakers so that he could take a step back from the actual baking to work on new product development. At the same, as we’d done with bread previously, we’d started eating better chocolate as a family, finding all sorts of bars wherever we could and learning about the origins and flavour profiles. There was hardly anyone making quality chocolate in the UK at the time and it was very much inline with what we were doing with our bread. We were using a lot of chocolate in our baking, but we weren’t happy with the quality of it, so we thought ‘let’s make our own’, and my dad set about researching how we could go about setting up the chocolate business.
He’s clearly been integral to the founding and ongoing success of Pump Street, but what’s it like working with your father?
It’s great – I’m so glad we did it and I’ve learnt so much from him over the years. He really immersed himself in learning how to bake, mostly through reading, and he approaches things from a very scientific angle, keen to understand how things work so that he can control all the variables and then play with them accordingly.
That’s been really inspiring to witness and it’s a very different approach to mine, so I think we complement each other nicely. I also understand him so much better now than I did before. Knowing someone as a parent is so different to knowing them as a colleague, and it’s a nice side of him to have seen.
A loaf of Pump Street Bakery’s sourdough bread at the bakery in Orford.
We’ve been lucky enough to have worked closely with the Pump Street Chocolate team for the last few years, but for anyone that’s yet to come across you, what do you think makes you different?
I think there are three things about us that are most unique or different to other chocolate makers. The first is that we’re single farm, so similar to Workshop Coffee, our chocolate is always made with beans from one single farm. We never blend beans from different farms because we want the chocolate we make to be representative of its origin and for the flavour and taste to highlight where it came from.
Secondly, we always buy our chocolate directly from the farmers, which is a growing trend within the craft chocolate industry, but it’s still fairly uncommon. Chocolate doesn’t have the many years of established importing and exporting systems behind it that, say, coffee does, so it’s much easier to work directly with the farmers. Companies like us, buying at the (small) scale that we do, haven’t existed for very long at all, so it’s kind of new territory and this allows us to forge these direct relationships. In the past, many farmers would have sold their chocolate to their national cocoa board, and so often we’re only the second or third customer they’ve ever had a direct relationship with.
Cacao beans arrive at the Pump Street Chocolate factory in Rendlesham, Suffolk.
These relationships are so central to us making better chocolate. After all, the chocolate depends on the beans, and the beans come from the farm, so the more we can help the farmer to grow the best beans possible, the better the end product will be. As I know Workshop Coffee do with the farmers they source their beans from, we have this ongoing feedback loop with our farmers whereby we’re able to feedback to them with a view to improving the final product.
The final thing that makes us different is the heritage of our bakery. Most of our bestselling chocolate bars are our bakery bars – our sourdough and sea salt bar, for example – and we couldn’t create that type of bar without the knowledge and experience we’ve gleaned from years of running a bakery. It works the other way around too, as we use our chocolate in our baked goods. It’s a natural fit; pastry, bread and chocolate, they taste amazing together. It also means we’re closing the loop of usage of our products in that if we have leftover bread in our bakery, we can make it into breadcrumbs and put it in our chocolate, and so that eliminates waste which is always good.
A Melanger grinding and conching the cocoa nibs into liquid chocolate at the Pump Street Chocolate factory.
You mentioned that your bakery bars are some of your most popular, do you feel like you’ve created your own chocolate sub-genre there?
There are some other chocolate makers doing that with chocolate, but the main difference is they’re not bakeries themselves. Because we’re doing everything, making both the bread and chocolate elements, we’re a closed loop and we’re in complete control of the whole process.
The panettone bar, which we’ve just launched this Christmas, is a great example of the two sides of the business working together. We didn’t just put a panettone into the chocolate, we actually had to bake the panettone without the orange and raisins in the bread, so we had just the crumb and the flavour from the crumb, and then we put that into the chocolate. We then added the orange separately, and finally, added the almonds and sugar crystals to the top of the bar. We wanted to recreate the panettone in the bar which we think works far better than taking the straight forward approach. It’s great when the two businesses can work together on projects like that.
What does ‘quality’ mean to you?
For us, quality means being as close to the best as we can. That’s what we’re always aiming for, not just to be within the good quality range, but to be up there with the best. And that means quality of flavour, but also quality of interaction and quality of service. For example, if you come to the bakery in Orford, you should feel like you’re buying the best sourdough you possibly can, but you should also get enjoyment out of the whole experience and the interaction with our staff and the brand.
A nice example of what quality means to us is that all of our bread each day is baked in the same batch, whether it’s for our bakery or our wholesale customers, and we only deliver within a fifteen mile radius. We could theoretically deliver to London, but the quality of service wouldn’t be as good and it’s just not sustainable to be transporting bread a hundred miles. We deliver bread to places where we’re the local bakery, and if it’s too far away, then we want there to be other local bakeries like us.
Bars of Pump Street Chocolate ready for packaging.
And how do you set that level of expectation amongst your growing team?Primarily, by example.
A lot of the time we’ll reject things, both with our bread and chocolate. As a whole pastry team, we’ll look at the pastries each morning and decide if any aren’t good enough, and if they’re not, they won’t go to the bakery or to our wholesale customers. It’s not the way most businesses work, and it can be really hard to tell our wholesale customers that they’re not going to get any almond croissants today because we’re not totally happy with them. Initially, that wasn’t something they were used to and they were obviously disappointed, but now I think they understand that we have to do that so that when they do receive them (which is the majority of the time), they’re the best they can possibly be.
Another thing which I think is really important for the culture of the business is that criticism or analysis of what we’re doing musn’t be seen as a negative thing, but as a necessity if we’re to do the best we can.
You recently opened a pop-up shop on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch for a week. Was that born out of necessity, a presence in a big city being a requirement for a growing brand?
I wouldn’t say it’s necessary as such, and you can definitely do a lot without a physical space in a city, but it’s been incredibly useful and a great learning experience for both me and for us as a company. It’s nice to be able to offer an experience to customers who know of us, and have perhaps visited the bakery once, but who can’t make it out to Suffolk on a regular basis.
Above all, it’s a great way to stay in touch with your customers, to actually meet them and chat with them, and to get feedback on your products. It also helps me to measure where we are now, and where we might want to go in the future.
Baked goods and chocolate side-by-side at Pump Street’s pop-up on Redchurch Street, London this November.
Conversely, do you think there have been any benefits to starting what is now a global business in a relatively remote, Suffolk coastal town?
Definitely, and more than I’m probably aware of.
One of the main benefits is having the support of a local community and I think that would be much harder to achieve in a large city. It took a bit of time to gain that trust, but once people realised what we were trying to do they really got behind us. I’m always amazed when people send me photos of our chocolate bars on sale in far flung places. To me, it seems like they’re proud and happy to see us doing well, and that’s fantastic.
Secondly, we’re creating opportunities in an area where job creation obviously isn’t what it is in London. That works both ways though - on the one hand, it’s amazing to be able to offer a whole new set of jobs in an area that previously didn’t have that kind of business, but on the other hand Orford is very remote, and that creates logistical challenges.
Starting the business in Suffolk also gave us the time to take things slowly. I think in London, such are the overheads and the pace of things, that your business needs to be standing on its own two feet within three months, whereas we were able to move at our own pace and I think that’s only been to our benefit.
Which other businesses or industries do you look to for inspiration and ideas
Coffee has been a great role model for us actually. The specialist coffee movement, with its smaller scale roasteries and sourcing more directly from origin, is years ahead of where chocolate is, but there are definitely comparisons to be drawn there. Looking at different business models and learning how certain companies expanded has been really useful.
Otherwise, I think we take a lot of inspiration from art and design. My husband is an interior designer so I talk to him about his work and we talk a lot about the bakery. He works mainly in the luxury market so that gives us an understanding of what’s happening there. It’s all useful.
I think as a small business owner there are lessons to be learned everywhere, you’ve just got to keep your eyes open.
Where would you like to see the Pump Street brand ten years from now?
I’d love us to have a wider range of products. It’s something we’re constantly working on, but it takes a huge amount of time and energy to develop and then launch new products. One thing we’re working on at the moment is to make it easier for people to try our whole range of chocolate. We currently sell a ‘Library of Bars’, but at £60 it’s quite an investment and we’d like to lower that threshold. That’s all I can really say about it for now...
It would be great to do more fun, seasonal things, too. People want to buy chocolate for a special event and we don’t currently offer many products like that.
I also just want us to still be doing what we’re doing now, and not to have changed too much.
And finally, first there was the bakery, then the chocolate, what’s next for Pump Street?
Aha! I don’t think there will be another Pump Street category. We really love doing collaborations with other like-minded producers, like we did with Workshop and the Coffee and Chocolate Bar, so we’ll definitely do more of those. With those collaborations, obviously flavour is of primary importance, but we also want to work with people who have a similar approach to us in some way, and shed light on an industry or origin that’s interesting for people to learn about.
Our third collaborative Coffee and Chocolate bar brings together coffee and cacao both from Ecuador. Together, they create a chocolate that’s perfectly balanced, offering complementary flavours of toasted nuts, brown butter and ginger cake with subtle hints of white grape.
You can view more of our Pump Street Chocolate range here.
The weekend brings with it the opportunity to take a little more time and be a touch more considered in the things we choose to do. That in turn allows us to appreciate the process a little more and discover more as a result.
With that in mind, we've partnered with tokyobike and Kinto Japan to brew and serve coffee from our seasonal range on the first Saturday of each month. You'll find us in their Shoreditch store from 11:00 until 12:00 brewing up something new on Kinto's 2-Cup Brewer Stand.
Stop by at your convenience for a conversation, to learn more or simply to enjoy a delicious cup of freshly brewed filter coffee on on us.
And after your coffee, you can also join tokyobike on a free, guided ride through and to some of London's scenic spots. Making use of cycle paths, tow paths, back roads and green spaces, bring your bike along to enjoy the ride and take in the views. Find out more and sign-up here.
"El Martillo SL28 from El Salvador and Dimtu Espresso from Ethiopia."
Two years ago, we introduced our first two festive coffees for the holiday season and last year brought you two more. Now entering our third consecutive year of bringing you a couple of felicitously festive-tasting coffees, it’s safe to call it a tradition.
For our filter range, we're excited to have secured this year’s slightly larger crop of SL28 variety coffee. Grown by the Salaverria brothers on the El Martillo plot of their Finca San Francisco estate in El Salvador, 2017 was the first time these young trees, planted in 2014, had produced enough seeds to properly process and export. We were able to purchase both a washed and a red honey version of the tiny production.
"The El Martillo tablón on the Salaverria's Finca San Francisco estate is planted out with a range of unusual varieties, including SL28, Yellow Icatu and Orange Bourbon."
"Raoul is the lab manager responsible for roasting samples of the wide range of lots processed at the Las Cruces mill in Santa Ana, El Salvador."
This year, based on feedback from ourselves and our customers as to which lot was better received, the brothers have processed the entire production as a full honey process (also referred to as a 'black honey process'). The 2018 harvest in El Salvador was particularly challenging for a number of reasons, and we've found all our coffees from the country to have been dialled back in intensity compared to years past. However, El Martillo SL28 is still tasting complex, full of botanical and herbal aromas as well as notes of preserved fruit and a delicately boozy quality. In the roastery, we've been experimenting with slightly more concentrated brewing recipes, achieving our favourite results when using between 65 and 70 grams of coffee per litre for pourover brewing, rather than our more usual 60g per litre, as we’ve found the slightly increased strength and concentration of flavour works really well for this coffee. Also, with the days getting shorter and the mornings darker, who wouldn’t appreciate that 10% dose increase in their morning coffee?
"Try out a recipe of 33g to 500g water for a little extra concentration and vibrancy when brewing the El Martillo SL28."
With regards to our espresso range, in the past we've typically highlighted coffees from Rwanda and Burundi that conjure up Christmassy flavours. We reliably get lots of honeyed baking spices in our Gitesi Espresso and coffees from Mahembe in Rwanda or Buziraguhindwa and Mbirizi in Burundi tend to bring a lot of jammy fruit preserves and redcurrant notes, very fitting for the time of year. However, our Burundian offerings this year have only just landed, and our coffees from Rwanda’s harvest in June-July this summer are still making their way to the UK. Luckily, we’ve been profiling an espresso from Ethiopia that we are imminently releasing, from someone fast becoming a household name at Workshop: Israel Degfa.
"Israel Degfa owns around 20 washing stations in Southern and Western Ethiopia, and is focussing on producing high quality coffees as opposed to solely large volumes."
This lot was processed at the Dimtu washing station in the Hambela woreda of Ethiopia’s famed Guji Zone. It has some very classic washed Ethiopian traits, being very perfumed and floral, but what we really love about it is the concentrated berry flavour, as well as dark chocolate and baking spice notes. The flavour, texture, sweetness and tartness make us think of sticky Christmas pudding, with all of its syrupy, steeped, dried fruits. When you’re layering up and everything is misty windows and long shadows at 3:30 in the afternoon, it seems to us a very fitting coffee to be drinking.
"Bags of sticky sweetness, tart dried fruits, florals and baking spices to boot, Dimtu Espresso is making us feel very Christmassy!"
"Move over PSL, Dimtu in milk tastes like berry yoghurt, honey and gingerbread."
Our ‘Love Your Work’ profile series sets out to discover and showcase individuals, organisations and initiatives, all of whom share our commitment to quality.
This month, we met up with ultrarunner James Poole at our White Collar Factory Coffeebar on Old St roundabout – the same location he and his running community, Advent Running, meet at each Friday morning. Over a couple of cups of filter coffee, we discussed how James accidentally founded one of London’s largest running communities, what motivates him to run 100-mile races through some of the world’s most remote areas and why running should be a pleasure, not a punishment.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I worked in asset management in the city for fifteen years and, whilst I was doing it, I was passionate about it. It was the late 1990s, there were lots of jobs and it was a good place to be. But then the financial crisis of 2008 turned the world upside down and the city became the worst place to be. Risk aversion crippled firms both in terms of investment and in terms of actually doing anything interesting.
I was living vicariously at the weekends, on the basis that I worked five days doing something I hated, and then two days doing something I loved. After a while, the imbalance between the two became clear. Even though I was earning good money, I hated the week so much that not even that mattered.
So I handed my notice in.
I had a few things going on in the running space which presented opportunities, although not necessarily financial ones, so I decided to try and make that work.
So is that when you set up your running community, Advent Running?
I had already launched Advent Running the year before. It was never meant to be a running community, it was just supposed to be twenty five days of running in December – the idea being that if you can do thirty minutes of exercise every day, in the busiest month of the year, when the days are short and the weather is miserable, then you can start to build a routine and it’ll help you carry it on into January and February.
It was only meant to be fifty or sixty friends, but then Kate Carter at The Guardian asked me to write a short piece about it, and all of a sudden the Facebook page received thousands of likes.
At the end of the twenty-five days, people were emailing me asking if we could do something in January. We ran a lot of events during December and I was still doing my day job, so it was a lot of hard work. But we decided to continue it by doing a couple of runs each week – a track run on Tuesdays, a bagel run on Thursdays [this involves starting and finishing said run at a bagel shop in Shoreditch], and some runs on the weekend.
It was all about trying to teach people that running doesn’t need to be a form of punishment. So much of the wording by big running brands are things like “smash it”, “leave it on the road” and “killing it”. The reality is that because running is physically hard on your body, most of the time you’re actually doing the opposite of that – you run fairly slowly and you pace yourself. But I guess a slogan like that wouldn’t sell many t-shirts.
I really wanted to show people that running could be so much more than an organised event with a medal and a free t-shirt. You could run for beer or run for bagels and coffee – what’s not to like?
James and the Advent Runners.
So that was a good three or four years ago. Where’s Advent Running at now?
It’s become a bit of a beast now to be honest.
We’ve got an online community of 4,500 people and I probably see around 250 of those each week at our various runs. We do runs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sunday and I try to lead all of them.
Everything we do is free to take part in (apart from the track night, where you have to pay for entry) and I’m a firm believer that, wherever possible, running should be free. After all, it’s such a simple sport. I could be making a lot more money by charging a monthly subscription, but I sleep better knowing that it’s free and therefore accessible and completely inclusive. It also makes life a lot easier for me because as soon as people pay for something, they have a completely different set of expectations.
Members of the Advent Running community enjoy a well-earned coffee at Workshop Coffee at the White Collar Factory after their Friday morning run.
What’s your day job now?
After leaving the city, I eventually found a role at Running Sport Heroes Group – a digital media platform. The business launched in 2014 it’s all about encouraging people to be more active. The app - Running Heroes - connects to all the major running apps and fitness trackers, and we reward people for being active. It’s like air miles for running; you earn points which you can spend on discounts and free stuff.
In terms of my interests and passions, it’s come full circle and I’m very lucky that now all my income comes from running in one form or another. It’s by no means the career financially that I had, but I’m lucky that I don’t consider a lot of what I do now as work.
Given the fact that running is such an enormous part of your life inside and out of work, has that changed your relationship with it?
That was definitely a big fear – that when running became work I’d start to hate it, but equally maybe that’s just because we have these preconceived ideas that work is meant to be something we don’t enjoy.
Like anyone, there are still parts of my job I enjoy less than others, but that’s probably mostly admin and it only takes up an hour or so of my day.
Let’s jump back slightly – why running? Was there a particular reason?
I ran as a kid and I was half good at it. When I was older I started to cycle a lot and then did some Ironman triathlons. Eventually I thought “what if I don’t do the swimming and the cycling parts?”, and fell in love with running and then ultramarathons. Another factor was living in London, where I find running is so much more efficient compared to cycling. I really enjoy running to the office – it’s quick, easy and it doesn’t matter how bad the traffic is.
People sometimes say to me “If you didn’t do the ‘run for beer’ or ‘run for pizza’, you’d be a faster runner”. They’re right, but then I’d probably be pretty miserable as well. I probably could be faster than I am, but that’s not that important to me. Having a great experience, and doing okay is much more important to me then being the fastest.
Would I have a marathon PB better than 2:44 if I lived like a monk? Probably, but then I’d be doing something in a way I didn’t enjoy or love. Our motto at Advent Running is “Fall in love with running” and you can do that in anyway you like. For some people that means beasting themselves everyday to get a better time, but that’s not for me.
James running in the hills around Tengchong, China as he prepares for The Gaoligong by UTMB® race. Photo by David Gonthier.
You’ve since moved well beyond marathons and into the world of ultrarunning. What is it about running 100 miles or more that you find so special?
Ultrarunning has allowed me to see things on this planet that so few people will have seen, as the only way to see those things is on foot. I’ve been lucky enough to have these experiences and have met amazing groups of people through doing it, from Surrey to The Alps, Greece to China.
It really pushes me physically and mentally as well, and it makes you realise what you’re capable of. It really is just relentless forward motion – you run until you can’t run anymore, then you walk until you can’t walk anymore. Sometimes that’s not easy, but most of it’s in your head. What I love about ultrarunning is that it removes all your usual societal constraints and routine. Most days, you get up, go to work, eat, drink and sleep. When you’re running one of these long events, that all disappears. You run, you sleep when you’re tired, you eat when you’re hungry. That’s it. You just keep moving forward.
A lot of ultrarunning for me is just keeping going, and a huge part of that is mental strength and keeping your head in the game. If you’re not happy, you’ll stop. One race I did, I stopped at a petrol station at two in the morning and had a beer. It was what I needed at the time to stay happy and motivated. The loneliness of it is a strange one for me. I love running in big part because of the social aspect of it. I run to run with people and have a chat. And yet I also enjoy running these huge ultramarathons on my own. I guess in a way I’m a series of contradictions, but I’m comfortable with that.
What advice would you give to others who might be interested in dipping their toes into ultrarunning?
A hundred miles seems to be the iconic distance in ultrarunning and I honestly believe that anyone can run that distance. But, like anything in life worth having, it takes sacrifice, and the amount you’re willing to sacrifice will affect how quickly you can be ready for an ultramarathon. You could run one in a fairly short period of time if you gave up your job, your friends and your family. Or, you could take a bit longer, sacrifice a lot less, and still get to that point.
Usually, when I make a training program for someone, one of the first things I ask is “What are you going to stop doing?”, because if you think you can just add something extra into your already-busy life, that’s not going to happen.
My advice would be to have a plan and work out where you are today and where you want to be at a certain point in the future. Then, put in the work and milestones needed to get between those two points and start running right away. Frequency trumps distance every time.
Really importantly, work out what’s realistic when combined with your family and work lives – it’s all about balance. But most importantly, enjoy it. Don’t focus too much on the end goal. If you go out and enjoy every training run, or almost every run, then it becomes more about the process, and not the result. On race day, a myriad of things could happen that are out of your control. But, if you’ve enjoyed the process, it will matter less if something does go wrong.
James tackles a steep section of the course during The Gaoligong by UTMB® race in Tengchong, China. Photo by David Gonthier.
What do you think about whilst running?
Everything and nothing to be honest.
I like to think I have a million good ideas when I’m out running, but I’ve yet to come up with a way of actually recording them and then I’ve forgotten them by the end of the run! I find running can be very therapeutic – a bit like sleeping on something. Otherwise, I might think about ideas for work, or ideas for Advent Running.
This differs for races when I’m more likely to be thinking about the route and the next checkpoint. I’ll often break a long race down into more manageable chunks and reward myself for reaching a certain point – “when I get to the next aid station I’m going to have a sausage roll”, for example, or, close to the end of a race, “I can’t wait for a cold beer.”
We know you often take coffee with you on these runs. Why is that?
The main reason? Life’s too short for shit coffee. But also, there’s something about the process of making a cup of coffee that I love. The way that changing the grind or the brew method can really affect the taste of a particular coffee is fascinating. I ran around Ibiza over Easter and took a bag of Workshop Coffee and a V60 with me. I took a mini-stove and would stop at the side of the trail to make coffee. When you wake up in a tent in the middle of nowhere, you know you’re going to start the day on the right foot if you can brew a proper cup of coffee.
And where did your love of coffee come from?
Before running, I did mountain bike racing, then cycling, then triathlon. I’m a bit of gear geek, I love cycling culture and that’s where my love of coffee came from. I’m a real supporter of the ‘do one thing well’ philosophy and of spending more money on less things. I can’t stand ‘stuff’, so I only buy things I really want and need. I bought a Rocket espresso machine (the perks of a city salary) and became really fascinated by the process of making good coffee. It was half science, half art, and that really appealed to my geekiness.
Have you ever fallen out of love with running?
This year I’ve committed to more business stuff and done less running and, to be honest, I’ve lost my mojo a little bit, rather than fallen out of love. Whereas last year I would never have found an excuse not to run, this year I’ve definitely felt a bit more “I can’t be bothered”. No real reason. It just happens. I find these things ebb and flow and, again, it’s about balance. You can’t do everything, and something has to give.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever run?
I’ve run in too many places to say which is the best, but a run I did in Sri Lanka a few years back really stands out. It was just an evening run, not a race, through these amazing tea plantations in the mountains and I went through all of these villages in amongst the plantations and people were continually coming out to cheer me on. It made me grin for hours.
The 100-mile race I did in China in March of this year has to be up there, too. It was in a place called Tengchong on the border with Myanmar on the old Silk Road. There’s obviously still a lot of poverty in China, but the growing middle class is really interesting – there will be more middle class people in China by the mid-2020s than the population of Europe. Running didn’t exist there five years ago, so to see something so new was fascinating. There’s no running history in China – no Roger Bannister, no Steve Jones – it’s ground zero, and that also means there’s no preconceptions as to what running should or shouldn’t be, no belief that running is a punishment.
James at the end of the 400km Ultra Gobi race. Photo by Lloyd Belcher.
What’s next for you?
I've just got back from my second trip to China this year - a 409km race in the Gobi Desert - and I'm deep in the planning mode for 2019. Running has provided me with many opportunities to see far flung places and experience amazing things, so I'm keen to share this with others. I've been organising trips to the Alps with Advent Running for the last three or four years and I plan to build on that next year with some new destinations and different challenges. And of course, in just a few weeks time, it's a return to where it all began, Advent Running and this year's challenge. I haven't quite got all the details nailed down yet, but it promises to be bigger and better than ever.
James and the Advent Running community run from Workshop Coffee at White Collar Factory every Friday morning. Convening at 7:00 a.m. and departing at 7:10 a.m., they return from their session at 8:00 a.m. for a well-earned coffee. All are welcome and you can find out more here.
Our ‘Love Your Work’ profile series sets out to discover and showcase individuals, organisations and initiatives, all of whom share our commitment to quality.
This month, we headed down to Peckham in South East London to meet husband and wife Tom and Lucy Wilson of Kanpai, London’s first and only craft sake brewery. What began as an adventurous homebrew project in 2015 quickly became an obsession, and this year, following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the couple opened their new microbrewery and taproom in London.
Whilst being plied with delicious, freshly brewed sake, we discussed where their fascination with Japan came from, how they learnt to brew some of the best sake outside of Japan and why working with your partner can be the best, and sometimes hardest, thing in the world.
So when and where did your fascination with Japan begin?
Tom: My parents moved to New York when I was a teenager so I was at university in Nottingham and then travelling over to see them in the holidays - it was pretty cool. This is fifteen or so years ago and New York, at the time, was leagues ahead of London in terms of Japanese food, and attached to that was sake. Over the many years I spent there I really got a taste for Japanese cuisine, and high end Japanese cuisine especially. After I finished university, I lived and worked in New York for a year and that’s when I really got my first taste of quality sake.
When I then moved back to London and started hunting for good sake here, I could only find a handful of places that sold recognisable Japanese sake. I then met Lucy and introduced her to it, along with a few of my friends who were into it too. We did a few sake parties, sushi dinners -- that sort of thing -- and then we travelled to Japan together. That was the real mind-blowing, epiphany moment. We travelled to really small, old school, craft sake breweries, where they make what’s called Ji-sake, a sort of local variant of the drink. It’s a bit like what the French refer to as terroir -- a taste of place. The first time we went out there was Autumn, so the brewing season was underway [the sake brewing season always starts on 1st October], and so the first sakes of that season were coming out. We were enjoying fresh, unpasteurised Nama Sake and you’ve never tasted anything like it.
That was a real eye opener for me, but also for Lucy, who wasn’t really into sake at that point.
Lucy: I think it’s also worth saying that we didn’t go to Japan to hunt down sake specifically, we went to Japan to explore a place we were fascinated by and obsessed with. We half planned the sake part and half stumbled across the breweries. If we go to Tuscany we visit vineyards, if we go to Bruges we visit beer breweries and it was the same for us with Japan and sake. It was just part of the whole experience of seeing as much of the culture as possible.
We fell in love with Japan as a whole, and sake was a part of that. The other side of it was this underground party world in which we experienced sake, and I’d say that had almost as much to do with how we ended up here. It was such a different experience. Everyone let their guards down in these tiny little bars that you could hardly fit five people in and the barman would just keep pouring sakes all night long.
And when exactly did the idea of trying to brew sake yourselves come about?
T: We’d brought a lot of sake back with us, and it was around the point when we were starting to run out that we thought we should try and make our own.
The really fresh stuff, which we were drinking out there, you just couldn’t find here in London, so we thought we’d have a crack ourselves. I was already brewing beer at home and the majority of the kit you need is very similar. To simplify it somewhat, sake is basically a beer. A Junmai sake -- everything we make is Junmai sake, which means it has no distilled spirit added -- is naturally fermented and it’s all made from the grain [rice].
It became this homebrew project which started off as a bit of fun and quickly became an obsession. First, it took over our spare room, then the kitchen, the lounge, the bathroom -- it was mad. We weren’t selling any, this was purely in the pursuit of making the best sake we could, for ourselves.
L: We both have quite obsessive personalities, so if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it properly. Every night I came home Tom had ordered a new bit of kit from somewhere.
T: It reached a point where we thought ‘this has become a bit nuts, do we scale this back, or do we find a garage or lock-up somewhere and move the equipment there?’ At this point, it still wasn’t a commercial thing, we were making some fairly high quality, fresh sake and it was just a cool project that we enjoyed.
It took us about six months to find somewhere to rent -- a really small unit so narrow you could only just squeeze past either side of the fermenter tanks.
L: It was about that time that I thought we should give it a name and see if people were interested in the idea. It took us all of two seconds to come up with the name Kanpai, which means ‘Cheers’ in Japanese and is a word we heard and used hundreds of times whilst we were out there.
So we started a Twitter & Instagram account and a very basic website just to see what would happen. What we didn’t predict was that Selfridges would spot us almost immediately and ask to stock us. That was when it became a ‘thing’.
Tom working the rice at a brewery in Northern Japan.
Were you looking into the potential market for the drink over here in the UK at the same time?
We often say that, yes, we were first to the party, but the party is a small one and we have to be realistic. Sake is still a niche drink.
It's always a great surprise how many people do know about sake though and it definitely feels like more and more people are becoming aware of it. There are stats that show exports from Japan are growing and we’re seeing first-hand that there’s a real movement now.
People are curious, they want to drink quality over quantity, and I think sake, as something new, really fits into that. That’s a big reason why we created our sparkling sake. Sparkling drinks are that bit more familiar and people can relate to it as they would a prosecco or champagne.
T: What we’ve found is that the sake’s that are being exported from Japan are usually at one end of the spectrum or the other. You’ve either got mass produced table sake, which is cut with distilled spirit and tastes okay but is limited with its food pairings. And then at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got extremely expensive sake that’s quite often competition grade. So a more accessible sake seems to be missing from the market.
What we’re trying to do is open peoples’ eyes and minds to what sake really is, especially naturally fermented sake.
L: When we tried to find decent sakes in the past, they were often tucked away in high end Japanese restaurants and came with a price tag totally inaccessible to most people. Our drive is to make sake at a price where people can just give it a go, and that’s also why we do half-sized bottles so that people will, on a whim, pick it up and try it.
Sake shouldn’t be elitist -- it certainly isn’t in Japan -- so the point of us doing this locally is that people can get it fresh and at a realistic price.
As you say, sake is still a relatively niche drink so can you give us a ‘dummies guide’ to how it’s brewed?
T: Whereas wine undergoes a single-step fermentation process and beer a two-step process, sake is completely unique in that it’s a multi-parallel fermentation process. So rather than throwing all the ingredients in together at once - rice, koji, water & yeast - you build them up gradually, over time. Koji is a mold spore - it’s bright green and it’s the same thing used to make soy sauce & miso. What we do is we propagate the koji throughout a portion of the rice, probably around 20%, in an environment where the temperature and humidity are really tightly controlled.
The koji breaks down the starch in the rice and then the yeast turns that glucose into alcohol, with the koji and yeast work symbiotically throughout the process. That takes time -- around three months in total to make a batch. We don’t want to rush the fermentation process because we’re bringing out all these different flavours and aromas in order to create a real depth to the final drink.
It’s amazing the crazy, fruity aromas you can get just from rice. This special process and sake yeast also creates a higher alcohol content than, say, beer or wine - a typical sake is between 14-15%, but you can ferment naturally up to about 21% - and that’s with no added sugar and no added alcohol.
Kanpai’s three flagship sakes - Kumo, Fizu & Sumi.
Aside from Fizu, what other sake products are you brewing?
L: We also have Sumi, which means ‘clear’ in Japanese. That’s our flagship, award-winning sakes and it’s clear, crisp and dry with notes of melon & nuts. This is the kind of sake you’d have with your main dish as it goes really well with meat, fish and even fattier foods like cheese, smoked meats & oysters. At home we tend to serve it in a white wine glass and drink it exactly the same as you would a wine.
And then there’s Kumo. This is our cloudy sake [Kumo is Japanese for ‘cloud’], with a very fine amount of rice sediment added into it to create the final product, and you get a bit more of a rich flavour as a result -- think banana, spice and star anise. This one can stand up to fuller flavours like barbecues and spicy foods.
T: Now that we’re in a bigger premises and have different types of rice arriving, we’ll always have our core range but we’re also going to be doing more seasonal and limited runs. For me, it’s about staying true to our roots -- self taught, experimental, and taking everything we’ve learnt from our trips to Japan -- and then creating these seasonal ones as more fun, playful sakes. If one of them ended up being particularly popular then maybe it could migrate into the core range, but we’re in no rush to do that. We just want to have fun with it and, really importantly, see what people in London want to drink. We don’t want to constrain ourselves at all.
Two new steamers, double the size of the previous ones, ready to be put to work in Kanpai’s new brewery in Peckham.
With an experimental, somewhat self-taught approach, how do you both ensure you’re making the best sake you can?
T: We’re always striving for perfection, but that in itself is an unattainable. I’ve spoken to a number of experienced Toji about this and the opinion in Japan amongst the master brewing community is that if you’re not adapting, not changing, not trying to make it better, then you should retire.
The job’s never done and it’s never perfect -- the end result can always be better. Our goal is to make something great that people enjoy, but we’re always trying to improve everything we do behind the scenes. There are so many stages, elements and factors in sake production that you can always be trimming the edges, making it better, more rounded, improving every single step.
L: All of that said, quality ingredients are also really important and that’s why we go back to Japan every year to build relationships with suppliers.
T: Precisely. We only source the best ingredients out there and you can see around you here in the brewery that there’s no automated equipment. Everything is done by hand.
Kanpai's sake rice, along with the koji and yeast they use, are imported from Japan.
As a way of introducing Kanpai to more people, you’ve both been involved in broader Japanese supper clubs and events. Have you organised these yourselves or paired up with others?
T: A bit of both to be honest, but the bigger, more successful ones tend to be when we’ve paired up with a food-focused outfits. Amongst the best are Gaijin who host a Japanese supper club in Hackney Wick. The quality of what they do is just mind blowing. They do three nights of supper clubs about once a quarter and historically we’ve come in on one of those nights to offer a sake pairing for each course.
L: We’ve also got a thirty-seater table upstairs in the new brewery and we’d love to get them down here. Peckham really needs some decent Japanese food!
T: We’ve done these pairing events with Japanese supper clubs & restaurants, but for us it’s not just about Japanese food, it’s about opening people’s minds to what you can pair sake with. We’ve done some great pairings with Spanish food, French food & American barbecue. Pairing sake with barbecued food is just spot on -- it’s probably my favourite type of food to pair sake with.
Kanpai teaming up with Gaijin supperclub to offer a sake pairing with each exquisite course.
What advice would you give to someone else with an idea for a niche product?
T: If you’ve got the passion, go for it. But you really need that passion. First and foremost, you need to love it, because it’s going to be such hard work.
L: For us, this all kind of happened by accident. We never thought about being a startup, which is exactly what we are now. Without realising it we've done the textbook thing of getting the product out there and having a go, without it being perfect from the beginning. Our first bottles and brand looked so different to what we have now, but we weren’t going to wait until that was all perfect.
T: A lot of people hide themselves away for a couple of years, spend a lot of money on a branding agency, and then they launch this polished product which no one has ever heard of before. To me, that’s not real. If you’ve got an idea, get out there and do it because you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to have to adapt. That’s the beauty of it.
Finally, what’s it like working with your partner?
L: I think it’s really important doing it with someone else, although I’m not quite sure I’d necessarily recommend that person being your husband or wife…!
But honestly, it is incredible. Most people don’t know what their partner is like at work. You spend most of your time at work and they’ll tell you some stories, but you never really know what their work life is like. It’s really impressive to see it first hand, to see your partner grafting and thriving.
T: It’s amazing and terrible at the same time. Without a doubt we’ve come through the other side of this and have more amazing moments now than terrible ones. But there was a time where it was 50:50 -- things would be great, things would be bad.
You obviously need a strong relationship and you can’t blame each other for things. You’ve just got to find solutions and crack on. Working with someone you’re so close to can be dangerous because you’re so much more honest with them than you would be with a regular colleague. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to share this experience with anyone else on the planet other than Lucy. It’s crazy what we’ve done, and if I was doing this on my own, no one would know what I’d been through -- they just wouldn’t believe it. But the two of us totally get everything that’s going on.
We’re in this tricky situation right now where we’re working crazy hours, the likes of which we’ve never worked before, but because we have such a love for it and are meeting such amazing people and doing such cool thing, it keeps us going. You’re knackered on the one hand but it’s your lifeblood on the other.