It’s a coast better known for cockles and crabs, but Jeannie Swales meets the men who chose Robin Hood’s Bay to start a coffee company.
Most coffee companies these days, whether they’re small independents or global giants, are keen to trumpet their ethical credentials overseas – trading fairly, ensuring sustainability for the individual producer.
A new coffee company based on the North Yorkshire coast ticks all those boxes – but is also anxious to make sure that it gives something back to the local area. Or, as its directors put it, they want to do good things both “over there, and over here”.
The Baytown Coffee Company is based at Hawsker, just north of the town for which the company is named, the picturesque tourist honeypot that is Robin Hood’s Bay. It’s small – just the four of them at the moment – and it’s young, having started trading earlier this summer.
The four partners – Nick Hartley, Joseph Hughes, David Higgins and Gavin Joule – have impeccable credentials, both in business, and in coffee. Nick and David are also partners in HR Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd, a third generation coffee merchant founded in the 40s, with a Royal Warrant and a shop in Mayfair.
Baytown’s beans are roasted at the HR Higgins headquarters in Waltham Abbey before heading north for grinding, packaging and distribution. But where the older company’s products have the sort of exotic names we’ve come to associate with good coffee – Columbia Supreme, Malabar-Monsooned, Kenya Peaberry – Baytown’s output revels in more down-to-earth Yorkshire monikers.
“Baytown produces five coffees,” says Nick. “The Bolts, Albion Street and Tyson’s Row are all named after streets in Robin Hood’s Bay, and Ness Point is the furthest point of the town. It’s the coast in a cup.”
The team’s fifth offering is also its most evocatively named – Boggle Hole, named for the cove just south of Robin Hood’s Bay where fossils abound, the Victorian poets in AS Byatt’s epic novel Possession fell in love, and a goblin, or ‘boggle’, was once believed to terrorise the locals.
Four of the coffees retail at a standard £4.50 for 250g of ground coffee or beans, while Tyson’s Row is the company’s gold standard at £12 per quarter-kilo.
“It is expensive,” admits Nick, who grew up in Scarborough, but has spent the last 25 years or so living and working in London. “But it comes from a small Colombian producer, is single origin, and is hand-picked and dried. You won’t find a finer cup of coffee anywhere.”
And Nick is keen to stress that Baytown’s ethos is far removed from some of the hipster coffee companies which are springing up in the capital.
“Increasingly, people seem to think you need fancy equipment to make a decent cup of coffee. It’s nonsense – you should work with what suits you. It’s perfectly possible to make great coffee in a simple cafetiere or using a drip filter that sits on a mug.”
The father of three young children, Nick adds: “I wanted to move back to the area where I was born and brought up, and also give something back to it.
“I already worked with David at HR Higgins, and I’d worked with Joseph, who’s a copywriter who lives in Robin Hood’s Bay, and with Gavin, who’s a graphic designer, on various other projects. We all love coffee, and we all have complementary skills, so it all came together nicely.
“Our aim? Coffee world domination!”
That last statement is quickly tempered by Joseph, who adds: “Actually, at this stage, we’re seeking to grow the wholesale side of the business. So we’re keen to speak to coffee shops, restaurants and hotels that would like to offer freshly roasted, high grade coffee, and retailers and delis who would like to stock it. We’re also taking orders from individuals via the phone number on the website.”
Baytown supplies coffee to some of the area’s best-loved shops and cafes, including Station Road Stores in Robin Hood’s Bay, Barnard’s in Fylingthorpe, the Sandsend Stores, and the Falling Foss Tea Garden. But perhaps closest to their hearts are the Dalewood cafés in Whitby – the first of what they hope will be many local projects where they can make a real difference.
The two cafés – one in the Whitby Coliseum community centre, the other on Cholmley Way, just behind the town’s Sainsbury’s – are run by the Dalewood Trust, a registered charity which provides services for adults with learning disabilities. The cafés are run by both service users and trained staff.
Baytown is not only supplying coffee to the two cafés, but using beautiful wooden crates crafted by service users for its point of sale displays. And the Baytown team is pitching in to help the Trust in a very hands-on fashion. They’d been visiting the Dalewood cafes for a while, and were impressed by the commitment and hard work of the teams there.
“But they’ve been hit by funding cuts,” says Nick. “We wanted to help, and we didn’t want it to be just empty words – it’s important to us to have a real social conscience, to work with integrity.”
The team is volunteering its various skills – Nick, for instance, is holding barista-training sessions with the café staff, who will in turn pass what they’ve learned to the service users who work there. Joseph is helping with social media. “And we’ve even been promised some advice on our interior design from Nick’s wife,” says Dalewood manager Lesley Dixon – which is quite a coup, considering Nick is married to internationally acclaimed fashion designer Ann Louise Roswald.
• For more information on The Baytown Coffee Company, visit: baytowncoffeecompany.com. For details on the Dalewood Trust: dalewoodtrust.org