How they make coffee in a climate like this

From bread to beef, strawberries to salmon, wine to wheat, the fields, waters and farms of Yorkshire can produce just about anything to a top-notch level. But for coffee, we quite simply just do not have the climate. However, across the Broad Acres the aroma of freshly-roasted coffee is becoming more common, and not just from the usual mass-produced suspects.
Ollie Sears, roastery assistant at North Star coffee in Leeds.Ollie Sears, roastery assistant at North Star coffee in Leeds.
Ollie Sears, roastery assistant at North Star coffee in Leeds.

Artisan coffee roasting is taking off in a big way in the region, both in our towns and cities and in the countryside. Small-scale operations, often just one or two people strong, are importing specially selected coffee beans from all over the world and roasting them right here in Yorkshire, putting their own unique twist on the process.

What you get is excellent coffee, freshly roasted, in small batches. In addition, you also get an extremely personal service, with the artisan roasters often dealing directly with customers to offer advice as to what they should purchase. In essence, it is a very small micro-brewery, but with coffee instead of beer.

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For many, this nascent industry was inspired by travel to coffee-producing regions and meeting the farmers who grow the beans, often for extremely scant reward.

For Dave Beattie, it was a trip to Sumatra that really ignited his interest. A chemical engineer by trade, he was so enthused that he took his friend Dave Burton straight to their local pub in North Yorkshire upon return and asked him to give up his job to get a coffee roastery up and running.

Three years on, the pair are running Rounton Coffee from East Rounton, on the edge of the North York Moors national park, selling to independent coffee shops all over the north of England as well as into Scotland.

Based in a 17th-century granary in the village, they brought their product to market by putting it in front of as many people as possible and convincing them that it was superior to what people normally deem acceptable.

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Mr Burton, a teacher prior to his leap into the world of speciality coffee, says: “If you go into a pub or a restaurant or anywhere that sells a product, and order something that comes back to less than your satisfaction you will send it back, but this has never really happened until now with coffee.

“There was almost an attitude that coffee is coffee and as long as it is warm and wet I will drink it.

“It has been about pushing barriers for us, letting people know that there is genuine quality to be had.”

Like many in the trade, Rounton Coffee uses suppliers such as Falcon to source its beans, ensuring that the farmers who grew them are compensated to an appropriate degree. “It is better than Fair Trade,” says Mr Burton, who hopes one day to deal directly with farmers.

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Rounton roasts the beans in a 10kg roaster to order. While much of the trade is with independent coffee shops, a burgeoning online offering is picking up steam, with a subscription system in place to allow customers to receive regular orders. In common with brewing, the industry is very collegiate, with roasters often sharing tips and ideas with each other, as well as a deep-seated passion for the beverage.

North Star Coffee got started three years ago, when Alex Kragiopoulos and his girlfriend, Holly Bowman, established the roasting business in a small industrial estate in the Meanwood area of Leeds.

The couple had been inspired by a visit to Kenya, where they were impressed with the standard of coffee grown on the farms they were working on temporarily.

Following the completion of their studies Ms Bowman went to work for Falcon, which imports beans from all over the world. “At that time no-one was roasting beans in Leeds,” says Mr Kragiopoulos. “There was a trend for it in London but there was nothing in Leeds. We decided to take the leap into coffee roasting.

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Beginning life with a five-kilo roaster, the firm has grown sufficiently in three years to have moved to the prestigious Leeds Dock development, taken on an extra member of staff and begun a coffee academy, open two days a week, to show off its wares.

North Star deals in only speciality arabica coffee and Mr Kragiopoulos estimates that 90 per cent of its business comes from wholesale supply to independent coffee shops and bars in the Leeds and Harrogate areas, although it also sells in Sheffield, York and some London outlets.

He traces the genesis of the trend towards speciality coffee to the horse-meat scandal, which caused savvy consumers to begin to take far greater notice of the provenance of their food.

In the long term, he and his partner want to source the coffee beans they use themselves, and the pair have plans to travel to El Salvador and Guatemala next year to see the set-up over there.

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Simon Bower, managing director of Pollards in Sheffield, says the UK is in the midst of its third coffee revolution.

“The first one came in the post-war era when American GIs brought coffee culture across with them.

“The next is what you might call the cafetière revolution, when people realised they could use French presses in their homes without too much difficulty.

“This latest one, the espresso revolution, is more significant, as it involves a lot more young people. You have the hipster baristas who are incredibly knowledgeable about coffee.

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“The emphasis is on driving up the quality, which is wonderful for the industry as it goes forward.

“We have customers who buy particularly expensive coffees for bragging rights purposes; they want to show their friends and family they have the best stuff.”