A LOVE for coffee and passion for fair trade have taken a Leeds company to the finals of a prestigious food award in less than two years from starting the business.
North Star Coffee will find out tomorrow if it is a winner in the Young British Foodie Awards, on the latest stage of a business journey that has taken them from university to the coffee farms of Kenya.
Alex ‘Krag’ Kragiopoulos and his partner, Holly Bowman, both 25, opened their coffee roastery at a small industrial unit in Meanwood, Leeds, after deciding to start their own business because jobs were scarce after university.
Since then, they have built a loyal and growing following amongst devotees of speciality coffees, and a place in the finals of an awards programme that recognises visionary businesses in food and drink.
Mr Kragiopoulos and Ms Bowman met at university in Newcastle. Ms Bowman had worked for Taylors of Harrogate, which gave her the opportunity to sample many different varieties of coffee.
Her dissertation took her to Africa. She said: “I spent three weeks interviewing coffee farmers and we both fell in love with it from there, and were really keen on ethical sourcing and transparency.”
That passion for coffee translated into an idea when both left university in 2012.
“It was impossible to get a job,” said Ms Bowman.
“There were just so many people coming out of university and there was a frustration at not finding work with a business in line with what we wanted to do.”
That led to the founding of North Star Coffee.
“We thought there was a gap in the market,” said Ms Bowman. “And we also wanted to expand the offering in the north. There was a whole speciality coffee culture in London, and we thought there was an opportunity to expand the offering here.”
In May, the pair raised £20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to buy a new, larger capacity roaster. They are dedicated to sourcing the world’s finest Arabica coffee beans.
The business has launched two house blends named after Leeds landmarks, Czar Street Seasonal Espresso and Dark Arches Espresso, and also offers a bespoke blend service for independent coffee houses and restaurants.
The company roasts beans to order and can also offer expertise and support from sourcing through roasting to brewing.
The company is competing against two other businesses, from London and Manchester, for first prize in the coffee category after making a presentation to judges at the Tate in September.
Mr Kragiopoulos and Ms Bowman had to present their products and also explain their business goals.
“It was really nerve-racking to stand in front of the judges alongside such stiff competition but we are thrilled to have made it into the final,” said Mr Kragiopoulos.
“We can only hope they liked what we had to say and understood our passion and enthusiasm for what we do. It has been an amazing two years so far and the recognition we are building reflects our focus on roasting the finest coffees we can find.”
North Star roasts more than 400 kilos of coffee most weeks. It is one of the few northern based roasters to be acknowledged in the highly developed London coffee scene.
The business is also well known in the Leeds thriving independent food scene.
The pair have built North Star on a cooperative ethos, partnering with and supporting other local independent food and drink providers. They are committed to paying sustainable prices for coffees to ensure the welfare of the farmers.
They aim to take on an another employee this year and hope to expand.
“We want to become a great Yorkshire employer,” said Ms Bowman.