Aime Gahizis of Gitesi Washing Station in Karongi, Western Province, Rwanda. We have been buying coffee from Aime since 2013.
Dely Suyapa Matute Ramirez, from Pozo Negro, Masaguara, Intibucá, Honduras at her farm Finca Las Manzanas. We have been buying from Dely since 2018.
Agustin Ccasa Ccoyo of Huaynapata, Yanatile, Calca, Cusco in Peru on his farm Finca Progreso. We have been buying from Agustin since 2018.
For us, showcasing the best coffee possible means working closely with the right coffee farmers, producers, exporters and co-operatives; those that are willing to develop, evolve and adapt as together we target ever-improving quality in the cup. The search for better coffees is never-ending and is a journey that we relish.
When we are selecting coffees to buy there are so many factors that can weigh in on the decision. How a producer is working all the way from the varieties they are tending to, their approach to crop husbandry & shade management, usage of chemical or organic inputs, their processing methods & drying techniques, their treatment of wastewater and how they hire and pay their workers are all relevant to our potential future working relationship.
We are, of course, hugely focussed on the cup profile, looking for coffees with a clean character and lots of sweetness. At origin this can mean earmarking potential lots that are not tasting their very best yet, but are hinting that they will evolve over time and blossom. It is important to be aware of how coffees change and to understand the stress that the dried seeds can endure in the warehouse, when being processed at the dry mill, in the shipping container and ultimately in a warehouse in Europe.
Our goal is to present the coffees to our customers when they are at their peak, to show off the very best flavour possible, and to purchase the right amount that we have roasted every batch before signs of fade and woodiness creep in. Inevitably over time a coffee will lose sweetness, as the seed contains a viable embryo slowly depleting stores of sugars and other compounds. In time they will just taste like plain roasted grain. This involves predicting how much coffee we will roast and brew ourselves, as well as how much we will sell to wholesale and home customers, and in doing so we always try to offer a spread of coffee profiles so that our range is always diverse and interesting. Often, we will see the same origin represented multiple times, but within each country and even each micro-region there are variations in flavour profiles that depend on the varieties tended to, the unique processing details and overall health and vigour of the coffee trees. The countries within which we aim to secure the majority of our coffees are Ethiopia, Honduras, Rwanda and Peru, where we have built strong and long-lasting relationships. We also have strong ties in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Kenya.
We are not just looking for one type of coffee profile, as we have customers with varied tastes and we ourselves enjoy drinking different things. Normally for filter coffees we look for lots that have great poise, clarity, brightness and sweetness, which can stand out even when brewed in more dilute brew methods and clarified through paper filters. We have taken lots as small as one sack for filter roasting, but normally look for between 8 and 12 bags for filter lots.
For espresso, as it makes up the bulk of the drinks that we ourselves serve and what our customers order for their own cafes, we require larger volume lots so as not to have coffees run out after just a couple of weeks. This alters the type of coffees we can pursue, and we are more likely to see larger washing stations which purchase coffee cherries from smallholders, as well as larger estates and even community lots, feature in our espresso range. We roast our coffees differently for espresso brewing and for milk drinks, but we are also looking for particular desirable characteristics. Balance, mouthfeel and a strong core flavour are more important when selecting coffees for espresso roasting and brewing. Rather than blending different things together we always showcase just one coffee at a time, with the same unwavering approach to procuring clean and sweet coffees for espresso as we do for filter purchasing.
To mature ourselves as coffee buyers we also entertain coffees in which we can see potential that may not yet be fully untapped. Fuelling our Foothold coffee range we are able to take large lots, potentially with a less pronounced acidity or a more robust and basic cup character, but that can make for hugely satisfying, round and sweet cups. In order to support a wider range of coffee producers and offer a product and service to a wider range of coffee consumers we pursue these kinds of coffees when we see a potential future relationship whereby the producers’ coffee is showcased in our mainline espresso and filter range as well.
When we travel to buy coffee we are never alone. It takes many dedicated parties to get the very best coffee possible to our roastery in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Exporting partners such as Nordic Approach, Primavera, Caravela & Promoting Peru have always aided us, whether that is by sending green samples for us to cup in the UK or hosting us at origin to enable us to connect directly with the producers growing and processing our coffees. Our goal is to visit as many of our producers as possible firsthand, so that we can gain a greater insight into the hard work it takes to produce amazing quality coffee, but also better understand the challenges they face, both within their control and outside of it. Finance is often a huge obstacle for coffee producers, as well as availability of other resources and labour, as well as a lack of knowledge and education in agronomy. It is important for us to hear their goals and aspirations as well, and we often gain great insight into how the exporting partners we choose to work with are offering support in more ways than simply paying a premium price for good coffee.
As well as farm visits to see the coffee trees themselves and witness the harvesting, processing & drying methods, we spend a lot of time in cupping labs tasting through hundreds of samples to whittle down our selections. It is important to also visit warehouses and understand the logistical challenge of buying and moving coffee, as well as seeing the dry milling process where quality is both retained and refined. Typically we then revisit cupping samples when we are back in the UK with the wider quality and production team able to share their thoughts.
We make no bold claims about having all the answers, nor about being unique or pioneering in this approach. What we do claim, however, is a genuine and sincere commitment to developing on-going relationships with producers, that facilitate their objectives of better financial reward for their handiwork, and our desire to serve the best coffee possible.