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A Love Affair With Coffee

I can’t exactly remember how or when my love affair with coffee started. As you would expect, coffee has always been a dominant force in my life, even from when I was very young.

Even when I was at primary school, I knew that my dad did something unusual, at least in comparison to the fathers of most of my school friends.

He returned home in the evening accompanied by the aroma of coffee. This was sometimes emanating from the small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with string that he had, or just from his suit which had spent the day absorbing the smell of roasted and ground coffee.

Whenever it was school holidays, I would sometimes be woken very early, when it was still dark, and whisked off to London by train. Sitting on the packed commuter train among mainly men in suits reading newspapers, I happily watched the fields of Hertfordshire turn to closely packed red brick houses with chimneys. The excitement of pulling into St Pancras station as all the train doors were thrown open and everyone began to jump onto the platform before we had stopped moving. 

The tube was even more dramatic, with its wooden escalators, warm smell and rattling trains. On arrival at Bond Street station, we would emerge onto Oxford Street and turn the corner into South Molton Street, the smell of coffee roasting already filling the air.

The shop opened early so we were usually greeted by whoever was behind the counter that day. We swiftly descended into the basement, passing the old Whitmee roasting machine with the sacks of raw coffee piled up all around, on our way to the office right at the back.

Straightaway, coffee would be made and usually toast and marmalade and possibly a crusty cheese roll was had from Cookies, the sandwich shop a few doors down.

Of course, at first, I was really too young to like drinking coffee. I do remember being asked at the age of about 7 or 8, but I usually shyly shook my head.

It was much later in my teens that I began to drink it. Always with hot milk, and always a pour over made by hand through a Melitta filter cone, just as my father liked.

In those holidays I was ‘apprenticed’ in the art of sweeping floors, filing, filling up the coffee jars, and running small errands. Gradually, when I could lift a bit more and reach a bit higher, I would be sent to the post office with mail, or helped in the packing room, weighing up the orders for posting, and sometimes delivering coffee to local businesses. I really enjoyed any job I was given, no matter what. The shop was always busy. Often there was a queue. The coffee roaster never stopped working all day so the aromas were amazing. Even the noise of coffee grinders and the humming of the roaster itself were somehow soothing. I had a sense of being part of something special.

In 1982 when I was 18 years old, we visited Tanzania and the coffee farms on Mount Kilimanjaro. I was in my final year at school and later in June I began full-time in the business.

I began to work behind the counter serving customers and, for the first time, began to talk about coffee. My father had always involved me when he cupped the samples, He would get me to try and find matching pairs to develop my palate so I found it easier to recommend coffees to people.

I think the love affair really began when I was introduced to the magical art, for that is what it was in those days, of roasting coffee.

The feeling of taking the cold hard green beans and turning them into a warm brown colour full of flavours and aromas more than made up for the long and dirty cleaning process I had to perform at the end of each day. 

I began to meet other people in the coffee trade. Those importers that we bought from based in London, farmers visiting, and competitors at various coffee events. It soon became obvious that there were many interesting characters in the business. Each person with their own specialist knowledge but all passionate about coffee. They were also really nice people, and that continues today. Generally coffee roasters are happy to share a lot of their knowledge, and help each other find solutions. Farmers will also share information and techniques to help produce better quality coffees.

Coffee is constantly changing. There are always new experimental ways of producing and processing the cherries, theories on roasting, new ways of brewing, and an emphasis on sustainability. There is always something to learn or discover.

Having spent much of the last couple of years in in isolation, roasting and packing for our online business, with the shop closed, it has been a relief to see our colleagues and customers in person again.

After a long gap, I finally once again set foot in a coffee farm in January this year. This was my first visit to CoopeDota in Costa Rica, from where we have been buying their coffee for a few years now. Finding myself in such beautiful mountain scenery, surrounded by coffee trees being harvested reconnected me with the farms and farmers. (More about this visit to come soon.)

For me it is not just about the wonderful coffee itself. It’s the way it brings people together from the farmer to you the customer. I get to meet everyone involved at every stage of that journey, for which I feel very privileged, and also quite proud of my own small role in it.

The love affair goes on….. 


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