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Memories of Vienna Blend - Mr Higgins Recommends

My father opened his shop at 42 South Molton Street in June 1946. But part of the story begins in 1938, about twelve months before the start of the Second World War. My father was then the manager of a Coffee and Tea Specialist, in charge of its retail and wholesale business. Although he had lots of duties, he always spent time meeting customers in the shop. This was a time when there were many refugees. 

He became aware of a man and a woman coming into the shop several times a week to buy half a pound of coffee (just under 250g). In conversation with them he discovered they were married, and refugees from Germany. It turns out they were selling their 8 oz of coffee, to other refugees. They, like so many refugees were having a difficult time making a living.

In his diary, he says on learning their story he gave them the best wholesale price for their purchases, so that when they sold the coffee, they would have a better margin. The coffee was of the very best quality, so it sold easily.  

Sometime later the couple came back to my father with a proposition. The couple wanted to buy 18lb (around 8 Kilos) of coffee on credit and pay for it when they placed their next order. My father immediately knew this would be a problem, he could not give them credit. His boss was very anti-German refugees, especially if he thought they were Jewish, he would get into trouble for carrying out such a request.

So, he purchased the coffee with his own money and told the couple to take it as a gift and when they came in the following week, they could purchase the next lot of coffee with their own money. He says, “I had no idea what that meant for them, and how it would help me further down the line”.

In the spring of 1942, my father achieved his lifelong ambition, by starting his own business, but it was a desperate start. H.R.Higgins (Coffee-man) Wholesale Only began in one room on the top floor of number 43 South Molton Street, with the most meagre equipment. In those dark days of the war, everything was in short supply. His customers were restaurants and shops with whom he continued his dream of creating a specialist coffee business. He also became a coffee roaster for The Coffee Division of The Ministry of Food. The Ministry of Food became the importer of coffee into The United Kingdom at the outbreak of war. The Coffee Division had government contracts that were constantly under threat because their roasters were being put out of action because of the bombing. My father became one of their roasters. They sent in their coffee which my father roasted and packed.

His contact with the couple continued, he employed the lady as a sales representative on commission. He says she had an attractive personality and was quietly spoken. She had access to the continental grocers and delicatessens, and they bought freely. The coffee they bought was my father’s Vienna Blend. He says there were times when she could sell more coffee than he could produce. He didn’t realise when he made that small gesture years before, of the positive impact it would have.

In this blend, we bring together the best varieties from South America and East Africa. Vienna Blend is a coffee that is suitable for all coffee-making methods, especially pour-over. It makes a lovely punchy breakfast coffee, and a great smooth espresso when prepared using a stove-top Moka pot.

With my very best wishes  

Tony Higgins

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