This year we are 80 years old. When I began to think about this it dawned on me that I have been involved full time in the business for exactly half that time. Over the years my father has told me about my grandfather, whom I can’t remember, how he started in business, and I’ve read all his diaries of course. The stories belong to a time before I was born when the world was very different and therefore always appear in black and white in my mind. But now I realise that even in the last 40 years that I have been working so much has changed, and now I am telling my younger colleagues’ stories which much seem as long ago to them as my father’s do to me.
“It was a desperate start. From 7am each morning I turned the handle of the roaster and by 8.30 am got 84 lb (38kgs) roasted and cooled”.
Wrote my grandfather in his recollections. I was amazed when I learned how hard he worked, indeed he saw his ability to work harder than any of his colleagues as one of his greatest strengths. But beyond that was a passion to take coffee to a new level. For years he had learned his trade with other firms and had been locked into buying his coffee from a wholesale list. During the wartime he had to take whatever coffee he could get but as the fifties progressed was frustrated by the restrictions placed on him. It became easier to source coffees from more producing countries, but he was forced to buy whatever the wholesale coffee businesses had on their list. They would chop and change their farms based on price and not much else, and for a lot of the time he found these coffees ok but unremarkable
“Coffee today is as the wild rose compared to the highest developed varieties. There has hardly been any advance in the last 300 years in aroma and flavours, and I am convinced that there could be.”
He always believed that each country could produce some great coffees, the problem was how to find it and source it. This led him to head off to Tanganyika as it was known, in 1960 to meet the African farmers on Kilimanjaro and buy directly from them, but it was still an exception to the norm and the wholesalers didn’t like it one bit, describing my grandfather somewhat dismissively as ‘a grocer’. I don’t believe he cared one bit what they thought, and anyway a grocer he was at the start, a member of the master grocers institute so it was hardly an insult. He was really interested in the farmers, and their coffee, and wanted to share this with his customers, not hiding the coffee as part of a blend but promoting it as something special.
By the time I began in 1982 we were able to buy coffee through UK based shippers one of which offered close contact with farmers and, like us, wanted to find and promote sustainable sources from high quality farms. I visited Tanzania myself in this same year with my parents and saw coffee grown for the first time. Arriving on a very delayed flight which landed in the middle of the night I had seen almost nothing on the way from Kilimanjaro airport to the house we were staying in. The next morning, we were driven into Arusha to the bank to change our pounds into Tanzanian shillings and I could only sit in silence and stare out of the car window.