As we become more aware of environmental and ethical issues surrounding our daily cup of coffee, the demand is shifting towards speciality brands with transparent supply chains and more complex flavour profiles.
According high street retailer John Lewis, at the height of lockdown sales of coffee grinders, coffee pots and other coffee related products were up 24 percent year-on-year, and sales of coffee machines were up 30 percent. Today Fabric of the North meets five Northern-based ethical coffee roasters who have also seen their online sales soar over the past few months, as consumers looked to perfect their own home barista skills, while also voting with their wallets to support local, community-driven, businesses.
“The overarching motivation for Blossom was to explore the ways we could lift ‘speciality’ coffee outside of the niche bubble in which it currently exists, and begin to ignite conversations around the role our buying habits can play in protecting our natural environment,” explains Blossom Coffee co-founder Andy Farrington.
Both Andy and his co-founder Joshua Clark had been working within the coffee industry for many years, honing their craft respectively at London’s world-renowned barista training centre, Prufrock Coffee, and New Zealand’s independent roaster, Coffee Supreme. “When we met a couple of years ago in Manchester,” Andy tells me, “we soon realised that together there was an opportunity to build a coffee business that was grounded in protecting speciality coffee in the face of climate change.”
“My first proper experience with speciality coffee was during a trip to Copenhagen many moons ago,” he says, “when I had a particularly memorable espresso at The Coffee Collective. That espresso completely changed my perception of what coffee could taste like, and two weeks later when I arrived back in London I walked into Prufrock and asked for a job. I’ve been in the coffee industry ever since.”
There are many buzzwords when it comes to coffee sourcing, but Blossom try to keep their work as simple as possible, guided by their long-term aim of buying from the same farms and coops every year. “The fundamental problem with supply chains in coffee is that farmers are not being paid enough,” Andy says, “and we believe that the best way for us to address this as a business is to buy from the same producers each year, as it’s only when a producer’s business is financially secure in this way that we can expect to see ongoing quality improvements. To that end, this means working with importing businesses whose ethical credentials we feel we are most aligned with. Specifically, it means buying from importers whose mission is grounded in securing a sustainable future for coffee producers and who are truly transparent in the prices they pay.
We believe in buying from the same producers each year, as it’s only when a producer’s business is financially secure that we can expect to see ongoing quality improvements.
Blossom have been following, and vocally supporting, the scientific research being undertaken by World Coffee Research (WCR) for several years now, and have recently become a member of the WCR Checkoff scheme. “When the opportunity arose to be able to support their mission through the work we do at the roastery we jumped at the chance,” Andy tells me. “The Checkoff Scheme is really simple; as a member we have committed to adding a small donation on top of every kilo of green coffee we buy that goes directly to supporting WCR projects across the world that are aimed at safeguarding the future of coffee.”
Like every other aspect of the business, Blossom have tried to simplify their roasting process as much as possible. “As a roaster, the quality of our product is informed by the quality of the green coffee we buy,” says Andy. “The higher the quality of the raw product, the greater the window of deliciousness that we can aim for during roasting.” They roast separately for filter and espresso brewing, roasting what would be considered ‘light’ for their filter coffee with the aim of maximising sweetness and presenting a clean and transparent expression of the natural characteristics of the coffee. For their espressos, they extend the roast a little further to enable easier extraction during brewing and create a more balanced cup.
“All the way through the process of getting Blossom up and running we have been guided and supported by an extraordinarily talented bunch,” says Andy. “Their patience, expertise and enthusiasm kept Blossom on track even on the foggiest of days and we owe them an awful lot. We challenged the folks at With Love Project with creating a brand that demonstrated our commitment to working in a way that is responsible towards people and the planet whilst at the same time appearing fresh and clean and removed from the stereotyped design of an ‘eco’ brand. This focus is really clear in the design for all our packaging, with the information that we display accessible and easy to understand and a simple colour scheme of Blue for our espresso roasts and orange for our filter roasts.”
They offer a Blossom Espresso subscription service, designed to deliver consistently delicious coffee for either home espresso or stovetop/cafetière brewing, as well as a Filter Discovery subscription for those looking to try a range of different coffees all hand selected by head roaster Josh. All of their coffee bags are aluminium free and 100% recyclable, sourced through Dutch Coffee Pack, who achieve carbon neutral packaging by investing in carbon offset projects in coffee growing communities. The rest of their subscription packaging, from the mailing boxes to the Kraft paper parcel tape and tissue paper wrapping are all equally recyclable.
“We’d be lying if we said the last couple of months hadn’t presented its fair share of challenges at the roastery,” says Andy, “but in many ways we’ve been much more fortunate than most in so far as we don’t ever need to both be working at the same time. It’s meant some longer days than we are used to but we’ve been totally blown away by the constant support of all our customers! That definitely keeps you motivated when the going gets a little tough.”
“It’s probably a little too early to tell what long term effects the pandemic will have on the coffee industry, but one noticeable change we’ve seen in recent months is the amount of interest and uptake in people brewing at home. You’d be hard pressed to find a domestic coffee grinder across the country that isn’t currently out of stock!”
••• There are coffee shops across the North of England serving Blossom coffee, including Coffee Fix (Gatley), Jonah’s Coffee (Preston), Ancoats General Store (Manchester), Wylde (Wirral) and Jacora Coffee Co. (Astley)
Blossom Coffee images © Doug Shapley Photography, used with permission.
“I’ve always had the itch to travel, to experience and understand the world as much as possible,” says David Beattie, founder of Rounton Coffee. “I had been working as a chemical engineer on Teesside, and had made my way through the ranks in various roles. I was desperate to travel, but the job I was in didn’t allow for a sabbatical… I decided not to let that stop me!”
The thing about speciality coffee is that it’s a relatively new concept – focusing on provenance and quality isn’t something that we as consumers have grown up with – not yet, at least.
He left work on a Thursday, and the following day hopped on a train that would be the start of a global journey, making his way through Europe, across through Mongolia and China, and down to South East Asia. It was in Sumatra that he met a small cooperative of coffee farmers, whose work was truly eye-opening. “Delving into the complexities of the coffee industry, and the challenges faced by farmers such as the ones I met, I was sure that there had to be a better way,” he tells me. When he returned home he purchased a small roaster and got to work on roasting some coffee with the goal to make sustainably sourced coffee as accessible as possible, and do justice to the amazing crops that are grown across the world. “As so many people in the coffee industry will tell you, their appreciation of coffee really forms later in life,” he says. “The thing about speciality coffee is that it’s a relatively new concept – focusing on provenance and quality isn’t something that we as consumers have grown up with – not yet, at least.”
David grew up on instant coffee, buying the odd bag of ground beans from a supermarket shelf if he were feeling particularly fancy but even then, he tells me, there was never much thought given to the types of coffee available; certainly not to the extent of thinking about regions of specific countries and varietals of coffee as he does today. “The coffee industry is facing some unprecedented challenges at the moment,” he says, “with many farmers being paid less than the cost of production of their crops. This unsustainability is devastating, and many farmers will simply stop growing coffee, and move onto something else instead – understandably so.”David tells me that the issue lies in the way that the commodity coffee market (C Market) works, wherein a farmer’s worth is dictated by the fluctuations of the stock market, and not by the cost of production, or the quality of an individual harvest. Rounton works instead with importers who forge relationships directly with farm owners and cooperatives, and operate outside of the C Market. “By doing this we can ensure that farmers are paid not just the bare minimum, but receive a premium for the crops they produce, with individual producers often being celebrated for especially good lots.”
Rounton offers a selection of seasonal single origins, many of which are from producers who they have personal relationships with and whose farms they have visited in the past, alongside a selection of blends available year-round. They also have an “outstanding” decaf that changes along with the seasons, of which David is incredibly proud. “We give a lot of care and attention to our roasts,” he says. “Traditionally, coffee was roasted with the guidance of the senses, and not much else – a roaster would listen, look and smell, and do their best to hit the same parameters in every roast. These days, there’s a whole host of technology on offer that removes that guesswork. Although there’s still a huge creative element in roasting – deciding how to shape a roast to suit a coffee’s origin – it’s good to know that it is backed up by solid data that we can use to constantly improve our craft.”
David was keen for Rounton’s branding to represent the journey that their coffee has been on, highlighting all the things that make it so special. “This all began with our logo,” he says, “whose diamonds at its top represent coffee beans in production at origin, with the dripping at the bottom being the finished product in your cup. All of this centres around us in the middle, doing our bit to connect the two.”
“Coffee packaging is notoriously hard to do well,” he tells me, “with a balancing act to be achieved between the freshness of the coffee and the way it is packaged. While we finalise a recyclable packaging solution for our coffee bags, we have already made huge steps with our wholesale partners, many of whom now take their coffee solely in reusable tubs. To us, eliminating the need for packaging at all is always the most sustainable solution.”
Rounton established their subscription service as a way to become more closely connected with their customers, and share the coffees they are enjoying the most at any given time. “Our subscribers get the first access to our new coffees,” says David, “and occasionally we will send out exclusive lots that don’t ever make it to the website. It’s really heartening to know that at any given time, there are a group of people enjoying the same coffee, and celebrating the same producers. This little community has since extended outside of the circle of subscribers, and we often have customers chatting amongst themselves about what they’re enjoying at any given time – it’s lovely to see!”
Rounton currently operates two coffee shop venues in Middlesbrough. “Our shops have shown us that sustainability is at the forefront of so many people’s minds,” David tells me, “and we’re glad that they see our sites as a place to live out those values. Since we started out, we have had more conversations than we could have ever dreamed of, about the stories behind the coffees, and how people look forward to new crops as the seasons change.”
“Over at The Corner, we have been given the opportunity to inject our values of sustainability into a place that doesn’t often get much of a look-in – the High Street. Situated on the ground floor of Middlesbrough’s Debenhams, we are influencing the coffee habits of a bigger range of people than we ever thought possible. To have an independent business on the High Street of a Northern town, serving coffee from Joe Melina, whose farm we visited in 2018, is pretty mad… Looking back at our original goal of making speciality coffee as accessible as possible, moving into The Corner was the big move we never knew we needed!”
When rumours of a lockdown began circulating in early March, David urged the team to roast and bag as much coffee as possible, not knowing when (or, indeed, if) they might be able to get behind the roaster again. “As we started to find our feet, we had to find ways to work that were totally alien to us – working with just one man in the roastery, doing the work that would usually be done by three of us.”
“What eventually became clear though, was that people wanted to find little moments of joy in an otherwise impossible time. Luckily for us, respite for many was still to be found in a quality cup of coffee. Although we dearly missed our wholesale partners, we were lucky enough to be able to keep the roaster turned on, and provide coffee for people at home. We also donated the equivalent of over 50,000 cups of coffee to NHS services across the region, through the Nightingale Coffee project that we started with the support of our importer, Falcon Coffees, and the donations of local businesses who wanted to thank our NHS.” They have since seen many of their wholesale partners return, stronger than they had anticipated, and tell me that things are starting to look up. “The coffee industry as a whole is facing a whole host of different challenges to usual, and now more than ever we hope that sustainably sourced coffee has its place in the public consciousness.”
⊗ Bedford St Coffee, 27 Bedford Street, Middlesbrough TS1 2LL. View map
⊗ Rounton Coffee @ The Corner, Debenhams, 1 Newport Road Middlesbrough TS1 1LE. View map
Rounton Coffee images © Andrew Dunning, used with permission.
“We started as a roastery in 2016 operating out of our home, before launching our coffee shop in 2019,” says Jean Armstrong, co-founder of Shiloh Roasters in Leeds. “The idea of coffee however, came about in 2013 when Mark and I met in Norway. We both loved the idea of having a coffee shop/bookstore/meeting place, but neither of us actually had much experience in running a shop, or even knew much about coffee!”
In fact, prior to meeting, both had only really had experience drinking instant coffee. This immediately turned Jean off coffee, but Mark – a trained chef who has worked in the food industry for over 21 years – continued to drink it, telling me that it helped him function during the long hours spent working in the kitchen. It took a wedding gift of coffee beans, sent by Jean’s grandmother in 2014, to really kick off the journey for the couple, and by the time Shiloh launched in 2016, they had both been converted to fresh ground coffee, and decided they wanted to launch their own roastery. “We learnt from a lovely Eritrean lady how to roast coffee on a pan in her kitchen,” Jean tells me. “Eritreans and Ethiopians have amazing coffee ceremonies, where the coffee is roasted while you are all sat together, and served very sweet with bread and popcorn.”
We wanted to be sure our coffee could be traced back to the farmer with no ambiguity. We wanted to find exporters who were not afraid of those questions.
A subsequent trip to visit Jean’s grandmother in Kenya reinforced the desire to work with coffee for the couple, as they saw firsthand just how little coffee farmers receive, and how hard it is for them to develop a good crop. “It takes money to buy good coffee and keep it growing to harvest,” says Jean. “The experience really pushed us to do something about it. We have a hope to see farmers paid well for the work they do, and ensure they have a lifestyle that is sustainable and comfortable for them.”
Keen to ensure their coffee was sourced sustainably and ethically, they first looked at Fairtrade offerings but decided this wouldn’t work for them due to the structures in place for the certification. “We wanted something that really benefited the farmers in a positive way, and made such an impact that growing coffee is a pleasure for them because the returns are great,” says Jean. “We did a lot of research into different exporters/importers and how they get coffee into the country. We wanted to be sure our coffee could be traced back to the farmer with no ambiguity. We wanted to find exporters who were not afraid of those questions, and who pay their farmers a good rate, allowing them to take responsibility and make decisions for their own farms. We now work with four exporters who deal directly, and have an amazing structure in place so that farmers make a living and pay their workers a living wage.”
“We then roast according to the bean to bring the best flavour out,” says Mark. “We roast, sample and cup each coffee until we get that “sweet spot”. Each crop will have its own roast profile and as a roaster it’s important to get the maximum flavor you can out of the crop. Coffee is definitely all about the palate, and while one person may prefer a really dark roast another may prefer a very light roast. We try to offer different roasts without going too dark, while ensuring you can still taste the notes of the coffee, like our monsoon Malabar which is the darkest we have.”
The Shiloh logo focuses on the acacia tree found in Kenya, which has led the company towards a rustic aesthetic. Their packaging is entirely recyclable, from the disposable cups they use in their cafe to the labels, mailing bags and coffee packaging. “We live in times where plastic is just rampant due to single-use,” says Jean. “A visit back to Kenya showed me just how destructive single-use plastic can be, as I saw so many trees covered in plastic in the Savannah. I remember even as a child watching distressed cows who had accidentally eaten plastic bags struggling. We wanted to make sure that our business was as ethical and sustainable as possible, and are working towards being zero-waste in the cafe, encouraging customers to bring in their own containers for their coffee beans, and having a bin on-site for the cafe’s food waste.”
Their coffee shop at Mabgate Mills in Leeds has been open for a year, and they tell me they were very excited to finally have a space where people could come and taste their coffee, as well as interact with them while roasting. “Our hope was to create a space that provided a place where good coffee, food and friendships could thrive,” says Jean. “For us, being ethical also means that staff are paid well, and not just the minimum wage. Staff at Shiloh are paid the living wage and assessed periodically to ensure that they are getting a decent wage. We are also looking at working with the local college to offer placement training going forward, as well as investigating other ways we can work within the community.”
With the recent lockdown forcing the cafe to close to sit-in customers, Jean and Mark decided not to open purely for takeaway offerings. “Our main customer base came through the cafe doors, and we had a moment of panic when we closed the shop,” says Jean. “We had to learn very quickly how to use social media to get our online business up and running, and that helped a lot. We have seen an increase in business through our online platform which has been amazing, and moving forward we are making some changes so that we use social media more, and stay connected to our regular customer base as much as possible.”
⊗ Shiloh Coffee Shop, Mabgate Mills, Leeds LS9 7DZ. View map
Images © Shiloh Coffee Roasters, used with permission.
Dark Woods Coffee
Dark Woods Coffee started life back in late 2013 when three friends who had previously worked on a variety of coffee projects together decided to set up a small roastery in a refurbished Victorian weavers mill on the banks of the River Colne in Marsden, close to the Peak District National Park. “Paul (Meikle-Janney) was running Coffee Community, a long standing coffee consultancy and training school, Ian (Agnew) was working on projects with smallholder coffee farmers in East Africa and I was working as a coffee buyer for a local coffee roaster,” co-founder Damian Blackburn tells me. “I’d worked with Paul on a number of coffee and training related projects, and with Ian we’d worked on a project to set up a coffee company for a group of Oromo refugees living in Greater Manchester.”
Once I’d been lucky enough to visit origin and to see coffee being grown, harvested and processed and the incredible work being done in each of these unique places, there was no looking back.
For the three entrepreneurs, the inspiration behind Dark Woods involved pooling all of their relevant experiences and trying to develop a coffee business that would not only be enjoyable, but become a part of the local community, offering employment for people in the area. “We wanted to focus on ethically sourced, speciality coffee but make everything as inclusive as possible,” says Damian. “We started roasting on a vintage Probat UG22, soon to be joined by a 5kg Probat, and I was able to build on a number of existing relationships with producers and exporters at origin. These relationships have been a real cornerstone of what we do.”
“I certainly drank coffee from a young age,” Damian tells me, “although the quality of what I was drinking didn’t cross my mind at that point in life! I can remember strong coffee on summer holidays to France which seemed really evocative, but it was having two friends from Northern Italy when I was at University that really started to change my enjoyment and interest. They were always armed with a Moka pot, and preparing coffee was such an important ritual to them.”
“I think most of us have been lured by the magical transformation, the sights, sounds and smells in brewing coffee. I’ve been roasting coffee for nearly 20 years now, and I got into the industry by accident working for the local coffee roaster – one of only a handful at that time – and was given the opportunity to learn how to roast. Once I’d been lucky enough to visit origin and to see coffee being grown, harvested and processed and the incredible work being done in each of these unique places, there was no looking back.”
Dark Woods was named after a tiny area just up on the valley side from where they are based, and the trio have focused on developing a roastery centred on direct coffee sourcing and quality, with an on-site training school, shop, event space and pop-up café. “It’s been important for us to have a core group of producers/exporters that we buy coffee from year on year,” Damian says, “and act as the building blocks for all of the coffees and blends that we roast. With buying any coffee, it has to be a good, strong relationship with mutual respect and trust, ensuring that we pay the price that the producer wants in return for the right quality. And our aim is to build the volume over time, so that the producer or producer group is able to grow with us.”
They typically visit their producers every couple of years, to cup and taste the harvest, keep the relationship and friendships going and assess the social and environmental activities being carried out on the farm. “We also assist with on the ground investment or development projects if these are needed. For example, we buy coffee from the women producers of Asproagro in Lambayeque, Peru, as part of the Café Femenino program, and have assisted them over the past year with reservoir building projects with a $10,000 donation. Water is critical to coffee production as well as for the community and sanitation, and the area is very affected by drought and climate change. Each and every coffee and producer means a lot to us; there is always a family and a face behind every cup of coffee that we drink, and a lot of love and hard work is poured into that.”
Dark Woods’ two roasters are drum roasters, and they try to keep the process relatively simple, but very much manual and hands on. “The human touch is really important,” Damian tells me, “plus it’s a sign of the care and attention going into each batch roast. We mainly roast our blends and espresso coffees on our vintage machine, and our single origin coffees in small 5kg batches on the other roaster. We use a program called Cropster to map and help profile all of our roasts, and ensure quality, repeatability and consistency.”
Damian believes that people like choice in their coffee, and that different roasts help to create that choice. “At times, there has been a bit of snobbery in speciality coffee that expects customers to only drink and enjoy lighter roasts, but there are still plenty of people who enjoy the chocolatey, fuller bodied notes of a more developed coffee,” he says. “So we roast a spectrum of styles, from light, zesty and fruity through to medium – especially for our single origin coffees – and then we have some more developed, darker roast styles too.”
Dark Woods consider it important to never say they roast “dark”, as they want to avoid any smoky, harsh or bitter flavours that might come about from over-roasted coffee. “But in craft beer, consumers aren’t expected to only drink IPA’s,” Damian says, “and toastier, maltier styles are respected too, so coffee should be brave enough to embrace this variety.”
When I ask about their branding and packaging choices, Damian tells me that it’s very difficult to balance branding and packaging design with eco-packaging and concerns over sustainability. “Speciality coffee is a competitive market,” he says, “and hopefully our brand is a reflection of who we are and what we do, and our packaging aims to be beautiful, and both a day-to-day pick-up item, as well as a good option for gifting. Dark Woods as a brand is designed to be for everyone, whether a very serious coffee aficionado or someone who just enjoys a good cup of coffee.”
“We’re proud of our packaging presentation and the details, but balancing this with our desire to use sustainable materials has been tough. We aim to use recyclable or re-usable packaging materials, and sourced from similarly minded sources, but we’re currently working on new ways to achieve these objectives and improve our packaging for 2021. But it’s really important to what we do, and we definitely have room for improvement.”
Like so many food and drink businesses, the pandemic has brought about a roller-coaster ride for the Dark Woods team. “We’re very lucky to have a lot of café and restaurant customers, so when lockdown was first introduced we were very worried. We also have commitments to our producer suppliers too, and we were faced with a big drop in the amount of coffee we would be roasting. But we kept the roastery open throughout that entire period, but allowed nearly all of our team to be safe at home with their families. But people still needed coffee, especially at home, and we also had hospitality customers who found ways to adapt, and also needed coffee to sell during that time.”
“Sadly, some of our customers had to close their businesses, but others have adapted really well and we’ve just tried to be here to support that however we can. So at the moment, we can say that we’ve been very lucky and are glad to have quite a diverse customer base which spreads the risk a bit. I think we’ll continue to see more people working from home, and more suburban style living, sadly at the expense of town and city centres, but if this means more opportunities for better coffee, especially those focused on ethics and better quality, then maybe the change is for the good. In the Colne Valley where we are based, we’re seeing more and more indy food producers and outlets setting up, attracted by a nice, community driven setting and cheaper rents.”
“With the exception of Covid, the last 12 months has actually been quite positive and inspiring for us,” he says. “We finally became B-Corp certified, which is pushing us as a business to get better at all elements of our social and environmental goals, and we won the Golden Fork from the North of England in the Guild of Fine Food’s Great Taste Awards. The next stage for us is more investment in the roastery, and in our team. We’ve taken on a little more space at Holme Mills, which is going to allow us to have a dedicated production area, with a new roaster arriving in the past week. This just allows us more capacity to roast coffee.”
“In turn, this means that we can develop our in house training facility, both for trade customers and for the public, have a better retail shop, more pop up café days and push to do more supper clubs, live music and other events which we’ve started to do more of in the past year. And we’ll continue to collaborate with our neighbours at the Mill, and – when restrictions allow – push to have more outdoor and joint events, markets etc with other local, independent businesses. We’re really looking forward to being able to achieve this!”
••• There are coffee shops across the North of England serving Dark Woods coffee, including Arcade Coffee and Food (Huddersfield), Bloc (Holmfirth), Out of the Woods (Leeds), Kiosk (York), Moss Coffee (Chester) and South Street Kitchen (Sheffield).
⊗ Roastery, barista school & pop-up event space, Holme Mills, West Slaithwaite Road, Marsden, England, HD7 6LS. View map
Images © Dark Woods Coffee, used with permission.
“Casa Espresso was set up by my father in 2000,” Nino Di Rienzo tells me, “and was started mainly to supply espresso machine equipment. We came from the hospitality industry; my father being Italian had opened various Italian restaurants in his time, including the very first pizzeria in Bradford in 1974.
Nino took over the business when his father passed away in late 2006. “I used to finish my day job at 5.30pm,” he says, “and then deliver coffee to restaurants and cafes in the evening. In time I decided this was something I wanted to do full time, so I left my office job and immersed myself completely in the business.” They still supply coffee machines, grinders and filter equipment to the industry, but have also invested in their own small batch roaster and started roasting their own speciality coffees, becoming Bradford’s first Micro Roastery and winning many awards along the way, including a 1 Star Great Taste Award for their Charlestown Espresso Blend in 2017.
Still today, I prefer to drink an espresso while standing at the counter, instead of sitting for ages in a cafe!
Nino’s personal love for coffee stems from his time living in Italy, where there was a local coffee bar on every corner and every piazza. “It’s just part of the culture,” he says, “and my breakfast consisted of dipping my cornetto – croissant – in a cappuccino while standing at the counter. Still today, I prefer to drink an espresso while standing at the counter, instead of sitting for ages in a cafe!”
Casa source ethical green coffee that supports the sustainable development of coffee agriculture produced by farms and cooperatives that are focused on a better future for workers, communities and the coffee industry as a whole. “This means we pay more for the coffee,” Nino tells me, “but the extra cost more than outweighs the benefits.” They work with a carefully selected small number of green coffee importers, who also share their ethos and ethics, buying only coffees that are speciality grade, fully traceable and chosen on quality, not on price. “Recently we have started to work with a company called Algrano,” Nino tells me, “who help small roasters like us to buy green coffee directly from the farmers, and are very transparent on costs and prices. We have also partnered with the World Coffee Research, who are a non-profit organisation hell-bent on making the coffee industry fully sustainable, by helping farmers and protecting the future of coffee. We support their work by contributing money every time we buy green coffee.”
The roasting process is all done by hand in-house on their 5kg Probat roaster, a labour of love which Nino tells me allows him to have full control over the roast. “This helps us to pull out and refine the fantastic flavours and nuances from the raw materials, building a profile that is unique to the coffee’s origins and terroir. Be it a Red bourbon from a Rwandan cooperative grown at 1800 metres above sea level, or a naturally processed Acacia varietal from an estate in Brazil grown at 1000 metres above sea level, we seek to reveal that coffee’s individual character,” he says.
Casa’s branding and label designs were created by Archipelago Studio in Leeds, drawing inspiration from mid-century, Italian graphic design advertising and posters, such as those for Olivetti which used simple, clear typography against bold graphic patterns, with limited colour palettes. Recently they have collaborated with a local print designer, Xanthe Bonsall, who designed a bespoke label for their exclusive coffee from a Colombia female producer, Mildred Niebles. “Our packaging is all recyclable and carbon neutral,” says Nino, “which was very important for us, and another step forward towards being eco friendly.”
When the pandemic hit and most of their wholesale accounts were forced to temporarily shut, Nino decided to close down operations to protect his own team’s health and safety. Since the beginning of May though they have been back up and running with their roaster and Nino tells me that the support they have received from online sales has been immense. “In the last month we have seen more and more wholesale accounts reopening, and things are starting to get back to some kind of normality. I think a lot of businesses in our industry will have to adapt to the “new normal”, and focus a lot more on take-out offerings, rather than sitting in. We’d also love to see more and more people enjoying drinking our coffees at home!”
••• There are coffee shops across the North of England serving Casa Espresso, including Fika North (Leeds), Northern Monk Refectory (Leeds), Salami & Co (Otley), Manna Bakery (Harrogate), Craft House (Bingley) and Lay of the Land (Settle).
⊗ Casa Espresso, 5 Briar Rhydding House, Otley Road, Shipley BD17 7JW. View map
Casa Espresso images, © Maisy Dinsdale, used with permission.