We’re always looking for new ways that we can help people to brew the best coffee outside of our coffeebars. It’s the reason we began hosting our hands-on, Saturday morning Home Brewing Masterclasses over six years ago and which now take place at our Roastery in Bethnal Green. It’s also why we share our hard-won experiences with a range of brewing equipment with you, be that via thorough testing in the Roastery or taking some of that equipment into environments it’s less than familiar with.
In making this information available, we hope to better equip coffee lovers with the knowledge and tools they need to enjoy exceptional coffee whatever their level and wherever they might find themselves.
Most recently, we’ve been working on augmenting our Online Brew Guides, aiming to make them even more useful for home brewers. Pairing up with London-based voice consultancy and design studio, Vixen Labs, we’ve spent the past couple of months bringing our step-by-step guides to life as voice-enabled audio guides and are proud to introduce you to them.
Introduced by our Head of Quality, James Bailey, the Workshop Coffee Alexa Skill is now available to download and use from the Amazon Alexa Skills Store and contains audio brew guides for our favourite brew methods: AeroPress, Clever Dripper, French Press, MoccaMaster and V60.
Much of the information outlined will be familiar to those that have used the online guides, as we walk through the required equipment, ingredients and crucial steps involved in creating a consistently delicious cup of coffee. However, there is one particularly big, and very exciting, development that the audio guides bring with them: their hands-off nature. Conversing with an Alexa smart speaker, listeners’ hands are entirely freed up to grind, pour and plunge as they listen along and prepare their brew. This, we hope, makes them even more useful to even more people.
The guides also contain a number of additional features.
Built-in, voice-activated timers mean you can be sure you’re perfectly dialled in to experience the vibrant, nuanced flavours of your chosen coffee (whilst remaining in control of when said timer starts). The Alexa Skill also contains a tasting tips section, where James explains what to look out for in each cup, helping listeners to better understand what it is they love about some of their favourite coffees and like a little less about others.
Available to download from the Amazon Alexa Skills Store now, you can find it by saying “Alexa, open Workshop Coffee”. Alternatively, follow this link.
With special thanks to Jen and James of Vixen Labs for their support, help and expertise in bringing this project to life.
There's no doubt a cup of coffee is an end itself.
The result of hard, focused work conducted by exceptional farmers and producers at origin, followed by informed and consistent roasting, before considered, conscientious brewing, there really is no end to the rabbit holes that can be fallen down in the pursuit of creating an ever-improving cup of coffee. It's why we spend each day of the working week focused on the plethora of data and details, which help us to produce the best cup of coffee possible.
However, coffee can also be a means to an end.
From the ten minutes we take for ourselves over our morning brew, to aligning plans and finally meeting up with some old friends, coffee frequently acts as the backdrop to balance in your life. Allowing us to carve out time in our increasingly busy days for that moment of control, or a platform to bring people together, it can be an excuse.
It was undoubtedly the catalyst for our latest expedition. Born out of a conversation over a couple of cappuccinos with Jordan, friend and owner of wholesale partner G!RO, we continued to exchange emails and phone calls until we found ourselves in Esher, Surrey, our bikes fully-loaded with everything we needed for a weekend of cycling, brewing and sleeping in the wild.
With brewing hardware readily accessible, our small team of four departed, quickly leaving roads and tarmac behind in favour of loose-packed gravel and lumpy single-track paths. The sound of traffic was replaced by the melody of idle conversation and a continuous, comforting chorus of clanking enamel cups and pots; suspended from the back of our bike luggage, they knocked together as they rolled with the ditches and divots of the North Downs Link.
Our focus was on exploration, rather than destination, so the ability to stop and brew up when and where we wished lent itself perfectly to the style of riding; another excuse to take a touch more time and appreciate the places we were passing through.
The first brew method, a simple V60, played into this. With involved and repetitive actions, the pourover process -- pour, bloom, pause, steady concentric circles, pause, stir, serve -- drew the group in. Providing us with a few more minutes in our beautiful brewing spot, the calming preparation and resulting cup of Githembe acted as a remedy to the hard kilometres already covered on the challenging and unpredictable terrain.
The second stop was for Cowboy Coffee -- the most basic of immersion methods that simply involves bringing a large jug of water to the boil, adding ground coffee, stirring and waiting. Being so hands-off, the two most important rules to adhere are to exercise patience, easy when you have the people and the surroundings to distract you, and pour gently, to minimise grounds in the cup. Obviously less refined than the erudite, ritual-driven V60, we drank in both our surroundings and the delicious Andrés Reyes Hernandez. Happy and content, this journey to nowhere in particular provided us with exactly what was needed.
You can read more detail for each method in our Brewing In The Wild piece here. You can also see what we took with us, along with several tips and more photographs from the weekend, below.
What We Packed:
A Camping Stove: we used MSR's Whisperlite Universal, a hybrid fuelled backpacking stove that not only packs down incredibly small but is wonderfully simple to operate.
A V60 2-Cup Clear Dripper Set: this plastic 2-Cup V60 is light and robust, making it perfect for putting into your bag. Just make sure you don't forget your filter papers.
A Coffee Measuring Spoon: when packing light, scales can be excessive, but that doesn't mean you can't still work to a recipe. Our wooden Coffee Measuring Spoon holds 17g of coffee, so we can always be confident in our coffee/water ratio.
Enamel Pots: Depending on how you're brewing, you'll need at least one vessel to boil your water in, and two if you're planning on making a pourover.
Two Bags of Coffee: The morning we left, we ground two bags of freshly roasted coffee for our chosen brewing methods. Ensuring they were well-sealed, we knew we'd brew all 500g within 36 hours, so the contents would remain relatively fresh throughout.
Special thanks to Jordan Addison from G!RO for his help in putting the weekend together and his photos; Curve Cycling for providing their ever-reliable bikes; and George Galbraith from Jam Cycling for sharing his company and photos
Caffeine can be a bit of a taboo in the realms of specialty coffee. We choose, quite rightly, to focus on flavour and provenance in the coffees we showcase. However, there's no getting away from the fact that caffeine plays an important part in coffee's consumption. After all, it's what gets many of us up in the morning.
With this in mind, we recently welcomed Christophe Reissfelder, formerly of Botanic Labs, to our Roastery in Bethnal Green. Well practiced in pharmacological plants and their effects on the body, he was perfectly placed to host a couple of sessions for the team on caffeinated alternatives to coffee and tea.
There are around sixty plants that contain caffeine, approximately eight of which are consumed around the world. Unsurprisingly, coffee sits comfortably at the top of the pile as the most popular, followed by the next most obvious answer: tea. But from there, caffeine sources become lesser known and are, at times, in danger of being forgotten completely.
It was these more obscure options that we wanted to familiarise ourselves with.
We started with Yerba Maté, a drink made from Ilex paraguariensis, a tree related to Holly that is grown in the Atlantic Forest in South America. We tasted two styles, with the first hailing from Brazil. Simply steamed and then dried, it had a very green taste that was reminiscent of Sencha. The second had been dried with smoke, a process more popular in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. More heavily processed, it offered a more pungent aroma with notes of tobacco and leather, reminding us of roasted oolong.
Next up was Guayusa, a cousin of Maté, and native to the Amazon Rainforest. Unlike its relative, Guayasa contains no tannins at all, so you can boil it for a long time without experiencing any astringency or bitterness. Containing L-theanine, an amino acid also present in tea that's known for its calming effect, this can help to temper the jitters caused by something we're all too familiar with: caffeine overdose. L-theanine is very umami rich, making Guayusa a tasty addition to stocks and soups. As well as tasting Guayusa as a tea, we also enjoyed a delicious blueberry drink, prepared by steeping the Guayusa in a water bath for 12 hours to create a thick, dark liquid. This allowed Christophe to extract as much L-theanine as possible, which gave the drink an incredibly syrupy texture. A blueberry puree was added and the drink was served chilled.
The third plant of the day, we soon discovered, became synonymous with the UK Techno scene in the 1990s. Club goers would chew gum laced with Guarana, a powerful stimulant that contains over twice the amount of caffeine of coffee, in order to keep themselves going into the early hours. Unlike Yerba Maté and Guayusa, the seed of the Guarana fruit is the part that's used. Slightly roasted and ground into a powder, the end result is compacted into a 'stick' and then dried in the sun. To drink, the sticks are grated into hot water with a bit of sugar. When Christophe is short on time in the morning, and doesn't have time to brew coffee, he'll drizzle a sugar syrup, made using Guarana, over his porridge.
Our final stop on our voyage through caffeine is often chewed in West African countries and presented at social events to guests and loved ones, as well as being used as a sacred offering during prayers. The kola nut is native to the tropical rainforests of Africa and was the original ingredient used in Coca-Cola before a switch to synthesised caffeine was made. The taste is very bitter, so we grated it before steeping it in boiling water and adding it to a paste made from lime zest, sugar and rose petals. Served over ice with fresh lime juice, it was the perfect tonic for a warm summer's day.
These insightful sessions saw us exploring caffeine found naturally in other substances, but just like with coffee it was interesting to pursue as much deliciousness as possible. After all, if you're looking to reap the functional benefits of caffeine, why not do so in the most delicious way you can? Typically bitter herbs, barks, roots and powders touted with health benefits aren't used creatively in cuisine, more often than not being thrown in a smoothie or, even less inspiringly, taken in tablet form with zero gustatory impact. Christophe not only wanted to explore the effects but also the flavours of these ingredients, and we were more than happy to join him on his journey.
Coffee seedlings being tended at a JASAL nursery, Santa Ana, El Salvador.
The constant availability of quality coffee is not a foregone conclusion. Like many other species of flora and fauna across the world, it is under threat. Climate change, pests, disease, drastic swings in crop output and numerous other factors all have the potential to substantially affect the long-term viability of the product we love so dearly.
We want to ensure we're doing all we can to guarantee its future, which is why, for the last eighteen months, we've included a donation to World Coffee Research (WCR) for each kilo of green coffee we purchase from Nordic Approach, Caravela and Café Imports. Having established themselves intending to grow, protect and enhance supplies of quality coffee, we see the work WCR are doing as vital if we want to continue enjoying the best coffee possible. Our Head of Quality, James Bailey, offers greater insight into the initiative and the positive impacts it's already beginning to have.
Journalists tend to cover one of three topics when the time comes around for a new article on coffee: new research proclaiming health benefits, conflicting research that says coffee is bad for you, or an increasingly common topic worthier of your attention; coffee is in peril.
Due to the scale of the supply chain from farmer to consumer, one in sixty people on the planet relies on coffee for their daily income. Whilst 70% of coffee produced globally is by smallholders with less than five hectares of land, demand still grows. Regions historically suitable for coffee production are now encountering new challenges; increasing costs of production and lower yields, to greater susceptibility to both pests and diseases, all are making it harder for supply to meet demand.
And, of course, drastic changes to climate patterns fuel the fire of these challenges, casting a shadow of doubt on our coffee-growing future.
When you look at the history of coffee propagation around the world, you can begin to understand why the crop's future hangs in the balance. Originally taken to Yemen by Arabic Traders in the 15th century from the genetically diverse range of varieties native to Ethiopia, a handful of what we now call Bourbon and Typica plants then made their way to India along the existing trade routes in c.1670. The Typica variety travelled the globe, via Indonesia to the Caribbean arriving sometime between c.1700 to c.1720, whilst Bourbon took a different path, leaving Yemen in c.1720, travelling to Île Réunion (then Île Bourbon), before finally arriving in South America in the middle of the 19th century.
Newly germinated coffee plants, Cauca, Colombia.
These two plants, which represent a tiny proportion of the diversity of the wild forest coffee that still grows in Ethiopia, are responsible for populating Asia and the Americas before coffee even spread to other countries in Africa. From c.1890 to c.1950, countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Malawi saw varieties entering from Yemen, India, Jamaica, the Americas and Île Réunion. These, however, are all from the first small group of Bourbon and Typica varieties taken from Ethiopia in the 15th century, so even East Africa is historically populated with coffee from the same shallow gene pool as the rest of the world.
This lack of genetic diversity, as typified with the Cavendish Banana, increases the risk of precarious monocultures collapsing and is being documented more and more frequently as farming intensifies globally.
Coffee has often been described as an orphan crop and for a good reason. The absence of research into coffee varieties, with no one group, body or organisation stepping in to oversee and ensure its long-term success as a crop, has meant the development of new coffee varieties is extremely far behind when compared to other commercial food crops. From 125 known wild species of coffee, fewer than 60 varieties of arabica and robusta have been developed to support global demand. It's a huge contrast when held up against other farmed crops: from 6 wild species of maize, 20,000 varieties have been developed; 62 native apple species have birthed 7,500 cultivated varieties, and a somewhat obscure point of comparison, there are 2,690 varieties of watermelon, and yet global coffee trade is 142 times larger than the world's demand for watermelons.
To make it even harder, coffee seeds cannot be indefinitely stored for future use in a seed bank such as the Svalbard Global 'Doomsday Vault' Seed Bank in the way most other plant seeds can. That’s because, over time, coffee seeds degrade and ultimately lose their viability to germinate.
However, WCR has a solution to this; a living, breathing 'seed bank'.
Experimental F1 hybrids await planting at a WCR Farm, El Salvador. (Photo credit: Sara Bogantes)
Currently conducting 31 International Multi-Locational Variety Trials (IMLVTs) in 22 countries around the world, WCR has planted the same 31 arabica coffee varieties in each IMLVT. This allows for analysis across a range of conditions that include elevation, soil type, sunshine hours, degrees of shade, rainfall and temperature. No program has ever achieved this level of cooperation across the world's growing regions and already the trials are beginning to give results. In 2018, first harvests were seen at 21 of the IMLVTs with coffee cherry adorning their trees; the ultimate reason for the research. Information had been gleaned before this time, however, such as when a hard frost wiped out almost all the varieties planted on an IMLVT in Laos and led to them being able to identify a group of F1 hybrid varieties which possess frost tolerance.
These trials aim to identify the optimal varieties a farmer should plant depending on the conditions found in their locale. World Coffee Research hopes this work will also allow them to steer coffee producers onto the right path when it comes to their agricultural practices, minimising the use of inputs and increasing both the quantity and quality of yields, especially as climate degradation begins to change the world we live in.
Laboratory-grown F1 Hybrids in development. (Photo credit: WCR)
Taking decisive, affirmative action to establish themselves as the world leader in coffee variety research, WCR have set themselves an audacious goal in the process: to develop varieties of coffee which are high yielding and demonstrably resilient in the field, whilst at the same time, delicious. Three traits that don't typically go hand-in-hand, hardiness in the field and resistance to certain pests and diseases are commonly associated with hybrids such as Catimor, which contain Robusta genes and cannot shake their reputation for poorer cup quality. WCR is combining the best qualities of some of the traditional adapted varieties, such as Caturra (mutated from Bourbon) and Maragogype (mutated from Typica), with new genes introduced from Ethiopia, as well as those hardy lines from a robusta lineage such as Sarchimors and Catimors. The difference is that they are focussing first and foremost on cup quality, with the bonus of improved hardiness and increased yields, even when growing under shade, simply additional agronomical benefits.
The first of the commercially available F1 hybrids (F1 designating a first generation crossing of genetically distinct parent plants) were developed just before WCR's time, in around 2010. We have since seen these early F1 types, along with newer varieties WCR have been working on, now appearing on cupping tables during our visits to Central America. Marsellesa (an early Sarchimor fixed line developed by CIRAD-ECOM), Centroamericano (F1 hybrid of Sarchimor and Rume Sudan) and Starmaya (CIRAD-ECOM developed F1 Hybrid which can be propagated by seed) are quickly becoming part of the ongoing conversation into coffee varieties both with farmers and buyers alike, being planted in significant volumes thanks not just to their resilience, but their success in cupping competitions. In the 2018 Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence competition, 9 of the top 20 coffees were F1 hybrids and that success is only expected to increase. With a plan to commercially release the next wave of F1s in 2025, the work being done by WCR is, in our eyes, crucial to the continuation of the supply of delicious coffees into a future we can't predict.
Marsellesa (Villa Sarchí x Hybrido Timor hybrid), planted at Aquiares Estate, Turrialba, Costa Rica.
All of this costs money. In the past year, WCR has spent over $3.2m doing its work globally. Since we became a partner at the end of 2017, Workshop Coffee has contributed over $12,000 to WCR, raised through the purchase of every kilo of green coffee we buy from Nordic Approach, Caravela and Café Imports, helping fund their research. Even better, Caravela and Café Imports are very generously matching that amount, further increasing the contribution.
The reason we've chosen to include this as part of the total cost of our green coffee purchases is that we see it as crucial in this ever-changing world. Investing in the research and development of coffee varieties suited to a range of climates, that are resistant to pests and diseases, and are capable of delivering a good cup profile seems, to us, to be the right horse to back. As WCR put it, investment into agricultural research is "as far upstream as it's possible to go", which means that a slightly increased cost per kilo of green coffee for us has the ability to aid in the research and development of coffee varieties, their optimal propagation and an impact on the global coffee production chain. The ongoing results from WCR's work will be so widespread as to potentially help every coffee producer on the planet, arming them with tools, information, materials and greater control over their own, and ultimately our futures in coffee.
From Friday 26th April until Monday 29th April 2019, you'll find us brewing up filter coffee in Covent Garden alongside New England-based running brand, Tracksmith.
Dedicated to championing the pursuit of personal excellence, Tracksmith seeks to celebrate, support and add to running's distinct culture. Their pop-up Trackhouse in Seven Dials, which marks the brands first ever physical presence in the UK, is an embodiment of that commitment. Not only will it showcase their limited edition London Collection and other clothing staples; it's also bringing together the rituals that surround the sport. Conversation and conviviality will be facilitated by freshly brewed coffee and cold beers.
The Trackhouse will be playing host to shakeout runs and panel discussions throughout the weekend. We'll also be there fuelling running's era and facilitating conversations between and with visitors. Showcasing our tangy, sweet Ecuadorian filter, Felipe Abad, we'll be using Kinto Japan's 2-Cup Brewer Stands to brew delicious cups throughout the pop-up.
Their first visit to the UK couldn't be better timed, as tens of thousands of runners descend on London to take part in and support one of the biggest running events in the global calendar: London Marathon. We're excited to be a part of Tracksmith's inaugural visit to our home city and hope to see you there.
Coffeebar opening hours:
Friday 26th April - 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Saturday 27th April - 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Monday 29th April - 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Trackhouse opening hours:
Thursday 25th April - 12:00 p.m. - 8:00p.m.
Friday 26th April - 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday 27th April - 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Sunday 28th April - 9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Monday 29th April - 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Location: 9-11 Short's Gardens, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H 9AT.
For more information on the pop-up and the activities happening around it, visit the Tracksmith website.
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