Where it all began for H. R. Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd.

The story of our business began with my grandfather H.R. Higgins (Coffee-man) who was apprenticed to learn the coffee and tea trades in the early 1900’s. He lived-in with the other apprentices, and before being allowed anywhere near a customer had to become competent in many skills.

So he came to learn about coffee and tea. One of his duties was to clear away the tasting bowls after the accredited tasters had gone to lunch. Before doing this, he and some of his colleagues tasted and discussed the merits of some of the various flavours, this beginning a lifelong interest, with a desire to create a specialist business of his own, a business centred on coffee.

During the period between the First and Second World Wars he held several managerial positions, and had by that time cultivated his gift for selecting fine coffees and teas. At 42 he decided he must attempt to fulfil his ambition, and he left employment and comparative security to open his own business. However it was 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, and his premises consisted of a sixth floor attic in South Molton Street London W1, where he would spend hours roasting, grinding and packing coffee for roasters whose business premises were being disrupted by the war. In those days the business was wholesale only; the staff consisted of himself, and my aunt Audrey who left school to join him. In 1944 he acquired the lease of the ground floor and basement at 42 South Molton Street and began a specialist retail coffee business. My father Tony joined the company full-time in 1953, becoming managing director in 1967.

At first the post-war shortages and restrictions made business very difficult, and many doubted his wisdom in starting this venture. They argued that fine coffee would never be appreciated or become popular in Britain. My grandfather was a great enthusiast about coffee and this influenced not just his customers, it inspired those who worked with him. As more and more people were attracted into the shop, no doubt by the aroma of freshly roasting coffee as they came out of Bond Street underground station, they discovered a business run by a family who wanted to share their love of the product with everyone. Publicity grew and the business was given a real boost when in 1952 Harold Higgins was interviewed by Richard Dimbleby on the BBC television documentary “London Town”. My grandfather died in 1968, but not before he had seen his dream begin to blossom.

In the 1970s the business grew extensively, both for over the counter sales and mail order. At times during the day it was something of an obstacle course for customers visiting the shop because of the number of sacks of parcels ready and waiting for collection. We successfully purchased our Waltham Abbey premises in 1982, where we moved our coffee roasting, mail order and offices. A new challenge presented itself as South Molton Street became a street of fashion boutiques, so rents increased, and we could see that when our long lease came to an end, staying in South Molton Street would be impossible. In 1986 we found the premises we were looking for at 79 Duke Street, where we could develop our retail business. After two years research, and following suggestions from our customers, we decided to sell speciality teas as well as coffee. On the lower ground floor we have our Coffee Room where customers can relax with a freshly made coffee or tea and cake.

I joined the business in 1982 learning the art of roasting coffee from my father and became managing director in 2003, and partner Nick joined me in 2013. My father still works in the business and remains a fountain of knowledge.

In 2015 we re-decorated our Duke Street shop, enlarging our Coffee Room and opening early for take-away coffees.

Our aim is to continue the family tradition of personal service and attention to quality which are just as important now as they were at the beginning. When we began, we challenged the idea of the time that fine coffee could only be appreciated by a few enlightened people who had acquired the “complicated art” of coffee preparation and , more recently, that “all tea comes in bags”. Fine coffees and teas can continue to delight, inspire and bring real enjoyment to all our lives.

Your taste really matters to us. We hope we may have the pleasure of serving you.

David Higgins

Miss Audrey and Mr Tony Higgins H. R. Higgins - 42 South Molton Street Mr. Harold Higgins in Kenya Mr. Harold Higgins serving customers Mr. Harold Higgins roasting coffee H. R. Higgins 1940s - 42 South Molton Street Mr. Tony Higgins Charlie Drake filming of 'Who is Sylvia' H. R. Higgins - Mayfair London