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In Time For Christmas

An unexpected delivery for us last month turned out not to be Christmas coming early for us, but actually the arrival of our new roaster. 

I must admit that the delivery was not entirely unexpected having placed our order for the second roaster a few months before. Due to delays and shortages, we had almost given up asking for a delivery time. But suddenly there it was and what a welcome surprise! 


So now we have two machines, something I have always wanted, two roasters will give us so more scope and flexibility in the future.

With the arrival of the new roaster “In time for Christmas”, I could not help but cast my mind back to our first Christmas back in 1942

In contrast to our set up now, my father’s equipment was a hand operated 7lb, 3kg in new money, gas burning machine that he had bought second hand for £3. He had rigged it up on a stand with a cooler made from a domestic fan.

His grinder was also hand operated. It was at least 60 years old and had been left out by the previous owner as useless. My father took possession of it before the dustman saw it. I remember desperately trying to work it without any success.

His meagre equipment was the result of his funds being very limited, plus he needed a government licence to purchase machinery. His turnover at that time made it impossible for him to even apply.  In 1942 everything was in short supply and bureaucracy in its full stride.

He says in his diary, “It was a desperate start. From 7am each morning, I turned the handle of the roaster and by 8.30 am got 84lb (38kgs) roasted and cooled”.

By that time, his staff had arrived in the form of my sister Audrey, up from Hertfordshire, where we had been evacuated. They would have breakfast, then grinding the roasted coffee would begin. 60 turns in a minute, then two minutes rest. Grinding completed, the coffee packed and delivered.

At that time, we were wholesale only. Our customers were shops, restaurants and eventually government contracts. When more coffee became available, he continued even in the dark, no lights because of the blackout. The only thing that stopped him was when the air-raid siren sounded.

If only he could increase production. But without better equipment, that seemed a far-off dream. To get better equipment, he needed a licence and so he was in a Catch 22 situation.

The answer came when he had a visit from the managing director of a British manufacturer of coffee roasting and grinding equipment. He and my father knew each other from way back.

My father writes “He looked sad as he studied my set up, and said, Mr Higgins someone ought to help you. I am going to motorise you”

He provided my father with an 8-inch industrial coffee grinder and made the 7lb roaster work off the motor. 

“I am not allowed to sell you machinery without a permit, so I can’t send in a bill, but one day you will pay us”. Which of course my father did.

He never forgot the people who had shown faith in him and his vision to create a specialist coffee business.

From then on production increased dramatically and before the war was over, he had secured the lease of the shop and basement of 42 South Molton Street. We moved out of those top floor rooms at number 43 and into the shop and basement of 42 South Molton Street.

At first, he installed a 14lb roaster which was quickly replaced by a 28lb roaster. Of course they were from the manufacturer who had motorised us.

The first Christmas with the shop open was December 1946. I know many of you remember visiting us in South Molton Street, and we took some of you down to see the roaster working at full capacity.

From 1946 onwards the retail mail order side of our business really took off.

As our business has grown, with so many more people appreciating the delights of fine coffees and teas, so has the awareness that both coffee and tea make wonderful gifts.

Forty years ago, David, Audrey and I introduced our Coffee Gift Boxes. Carefully selected individual speciality coffees, chosen especially for different coffee makers. They were an immediate success and were followed by our Tea Gift Box Selections.

This year we have continued to expand, creating an even more comprehensive selection of gift ideas. 

We still offer Coffee and Tea Gift Boxes, as well as taster kits to help you discover something new or introduce a loved one to the pleasure of speciality coffee and tea.

For something a little different, we have our truffle based gifts in collaboration with The Highland Chocolatier, pairing some of our favourite coffees and teas with Iain's award winning truffles.

And new for this year, H. R. Higgins Gift Vouchers allowing you to treat someone special with the gift of Higgins.

We all have people that we want to remember during this season of giving, be it family and friends, or those people who have sometimes gone out of their way to help us through what have undoubtedly been difficult times. 

A gift of coffee or tea can be just the answer to let someone know that you are thinking of them at this time of year. Something that can be shared and enjoyed together.  

The team at H. R. Higgins are all working hard to make your Christmas special by bringing you the world’s finest coffees and teas.

This weekend, we will be taking final order “In Time for Christmas”. 

Duke Street will be open up to and including Christmas Eve, re-opening on Wednesday 29th December. Come and meet the team and enjoy a coffee or tea while making your choices. 

We all send our thanks to you for making us your coffee and tea specialist throughout 2021 and our very best wishes for 2022.

We love what we do and will continue to search for the world’s finest coffees and teas for you, because you keep on telling us, that to start or complete your days, you just need your chosen variety from H. R. Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd.

With my greetings and good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Tony Higgins


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