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Mr Higgins Favourite Coffee
My father spent a lot of his time engaging with customers and would enter into in depth conversations with them about their coffee. They would go away enthralled by a conversation that sometime extended to the history of coffee and coffee drinking in general.

One of the things I had to get used to was the look of sheer disappointment on the faces of some customers when they found me and not my father on duty. Sometimes a very expressive “Oh” would extend to “Oh, isn’t there anybody else here?”

This wasn’t the best of starts, but with a few exceptions they gave me a chance and warmed to me a little as the transaction progressed. I was keen, they could see that I knew where everything was and I responded quickly.

To establish relationship, some would recount to me how well they knew my father, they had no idea I was his son, to them I was just a young new face. They could come up with the most exaggerated stories about my father.

Some of them were bizarre, for example one was that he had once had a career as a jockey. As a young man he had served in The Royal Horse Artillery during the first world war so he had ridden, but never as a jockey!!  The stories extended to my mother describing her as a one-time very gad-about socialite.   Anyone who knew my mother would find this preposterous, she was very supportive of my father and quite retiring, never a gad-about.

The wilder of these stories bothered me somewhat and I resolved to tell my father about them. I caught him just before he was leaving the shop for the bank.  To my surprise he roared with laughter, clapped me on the shoulder, jammed his bowler hat on and went off to the bank with the previous days takings still laughing.  So, I duly took note and just listened to the stories saying “Really” in what I hoped was a very impressed manner. Before they left customers would confidentially lean towards me over the counter and confide to me that they were in possession of information, that they knew my father’s favourite coffee.
What they didn’t realise was that my very first task every morning before the shop opened was to prepare and serve my father with his first cup of coffee. Well, we didn’t have cups, my father saw no need to go to the extravagance of cups and saucers when our tasting bowls would do. The coffee prepared to his specification of course, and I would carefully take the bowl of freshly made coffee to him as he sat in the downstairs office pouring over yesterday’s sales figures. He would always greet me with an encouraging smile and say “Here he is with my favourite coffee”. His favourite? He left that to me. Of course, I knew his preferences for that time of day, no good taking him Continental Blend first thing. His favourite was the one I chose to give him of that day. For him there was no one, single favourite. He was simply in love with quality coffee and he passed that on to all who knew him.

My father’s ideas about coffee were quite ground breaking for their time. That coffee growing countries from all around the world could produce individually coffees of outstanding quality. Different, complex, diverse from each other with their own identities. Even when growing in the same area. As grapes of different varieties grown in their individual conditions of soils and altitude and nurtured with skill and dedication, produce vastly different and complex wines.
In the 1950’s the idea that coffee could be thought of in that way, and achieve that kind of recognition was derided by many, especially within the coffee trade. Some thought my father a bit of a crank with ideas that would never be achieved. There was a lot of very mediocre coffee on the market, many producers had yet to realise the potential of growing not just for quantity but also for quality and what it could mean for their very important export crop.

I remember my father’s excitement as we tasted together and were gradually able to expand our selection. To become part of our list a coffee had to be outstanding, we would never stock just because of a name, and if the coffee didn’t live up to our standards of quality, we would remove it from our list. This is still our policy.

I believe that we have taken my father’s ideas to even greater levels, and you have enthusiastically encouraged us. My son David has continued to take traceability and sustainability to new relationships. His embracing technology and harnessing it when we roast your coffees, has made it possible for us to unlock and discover even more complex flavours.
The definition of the word Favourite is “Preferred to all others” Coffee and tea offer us a whole world of exciting experiences. You won’t be surprised to learn that like my father I don’t have just one single favourite, but lots of them.

There will always be varieties that are special to me, but that doesn’t mean that it will always be the same ones, or that I see my quest to discover and enjoy new flavours is at an end.

The seeming innocent cup of coffee or tea, that we can so easily take for granted can contain a whole world of exciting stories and flavours and be very personal to us as individuals. Almost as personal as the clothes we wear, the ones that just make us feel good about ourselves.

Our team at the Roastery and at the shop are dedicated in wanting to help you with your favourites. The varieties that can be there for you at the start and throughout your day. To help you with the possibility of discovering more favourites. As well as one to one advice we have produced a booklet entitled Revive and Refresh for Summer Drinking, plus we can send you Tasting Notes information for many of our varieties of coffee and tea. There are Taster Kits, coffees selected by David and me from our Master Classes, you can organise your own Master Class at home.
Our live Master Classes at 79 Duke Street are very popular. We hold them after the shop is shut and restrict the numbers to about fifteen each evening so that we can meet everyone on a more personal level.  An opportunity for you to taste coffee with David, Preethi, our manager, and myself.  Pease see our website for details of all these items.

I didn’t keep the job of preparing my father’s coffee for long, soon there was someone more junior than me occupying that place and I instructed him in the choice and ritual of Mr Higgins coffee. Sometimes I would see him, nervously taking my father his coffee and as I climbed the stairs from the basement to the shop in order to see which coffees I was to roast, I would pause on the stairs and wait, sure enough there would come the familiar greeting “Here he is with my favourite coffee”.

I would smile to myself, whatever the day held for that trainee, at that moment he felt he was walking on air.


Tony Higgins


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