Blog posts

Musasa Dukunde Kawa Nkara April 17 2017, 0 Comments

Coffees from Rwanda have long been a favourite at Carvetii and this year we’ve really enjoyed two great coffees from the Musasa Dukunde Kawa cooperative located in the rugged northwest of the country. While one of these coffees found its way onto our espresso blend, the other is available as a single origin coffee, suitable for filter, cafetiere and Aeropress brewing.

Nkara is the name given to the cooperative’s third mill. Built in 2007 using profits from the other two mills and a bank loan, Nkara sits at 1,800m and serves farmers within the Ruli Sector of Rwanda’s Northern Province.

What to expect in the cup

Rwandan coffees appeal to us because of the wonderful fruitiness you experience in the cup. Brewed to the right strength you can expect this coffee to have a wonderful juicy character with just the right balance of acidity and sweetness. Our discussions at the Roastery resulted in the following description:

Expect an initial black grape acidity followed by flavours of juicy plums. This coffee has a lingering fruity sweetness and a coating mouthfeel.

Back at the Washing Station1

Musasa Cherries
Coffee Cherries, Musasa

This coffee is the collective effort of some 2,100 farmers each with only around 1/4 hectare available to grow coffee. The Nkara washing station buys coffee cherries from these farmers, all of whom produce the same varietal of coffee, Red Bourbon2. The cherries are hand picked only when they are fully ripe and are pulped3 the same evening. The beans are then fermented for around 12 hours, a process which removes the mucilage, or flesh, of the fruit.

Coffee pulper at Musasa
The coffee pulper removes the skin from the cherry

At this stage the coffee beans are surrounded my a hard layer called ‘parchment’, and they will be wet following the above process. The ‘parchment’ as the beans are now called, is graded using floatation channels which sort the coffee by weight (with the heaviest regarded as the best). The wet parchment then soaked in water for between 18 and 24 hours to stabilise moisture content.

Sorting coffee at Musasa
Hand sorting parchment, Musasa

Washed beans are then moved from the wet fermentation tanks onto pre-drying tables, where they are intensively sorted under shade for around six hours. The idea is that greens (unripes) are still visible when the beans are damp, while the roofs over the tables protect the beans from the direct sunlight. Next, the beans are moved onto the washing station’s extensive drying tables for around 14 days (depending on the weather), where they are sorted again for defects, turned regularly and protected from rain and the midday sun by covers, ensuring both even drying and the removal of any damaged or ‘funny looking’ beans. After reaching 11% humidity, the coffee is then stored as parchment in Nkara’s purpose-built warehouse.

The final stage of processing occurs at the dry mill and involves the removal of the hard parchment layer. Only now are the coffee beans finally revealed.

You can purchase this coffee from our online store.

  1. The term Washing Station is used in Rwanda to describe the mill which processes the coffee (removes the coffee bean from the coffee cherry).
  2. Bourbon is a natural mutation of Typica which occurred on the island of Réunion(at the time called Bourbon). It is believed to have a distinctive sweetness which is prized in the speciality industry. Red, yellow and orange variations are available.
  3. Pulping: removing the skin from the coffee fruit

Pop-Up Coffee Shop: Friday 14th April April 09 2017, 0 Comments

Monday 10th April sees the start of UK Coffee Week, a period of fundraising in the coffee industry to raise funds for Project Waterfall. We’ll be doing our bit at Carvetii by running a pop-up coffee shop from our new Roastery on Friday 14th April.

A study1 in 2003 found that to produce a standard cup of coffee, 140 litres of water are needed, with by far the largest proportion linked to growing the coffee plant. It seems only fitting therefore that the charity supported by U.K. Coffee Week is aimed at providing clean drinking water for coffee growing communities. The charity currently works with communities in Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, and since 2011 has raised of £600,000.

Now here’s your chance to contribute to this year’s total. On Friday 14th April we’ll be operating a pop-up coffee shop from our Roastery in Threlkeld. We’ll have a range of coffees available (and teas), and 100% of proceeds from the event will go to Project Waterfall. As well as enjoying a delicious cup of our coffee, brewed by our own fair hands, you also get a chance to visit our new premises which aren’t often open to the public.  Our pop-up coffee shop will be open from 9am until 3pm.

There’s no need to book as we’ll be there all day waiting to serve you. We can also offer a takeaway coffee if you’re in a hurry or are on your way out for the day. With your help we can make a difference to the lives of others.

Our Roastery is located at the edge of the village of Threlkeld, just off the A66. We suggest you take the turning on the Penrith (east end) of the village, and then take the first right up a lane. You should spot Grapevine Wineservice on the right and we are based on the same site. The postcode is CA12 4SU.

  1. The water needed to have the Dutch drink coffee, Institute for Water Education, 2003

Testing, Testing March 12 2017, 0 Comments

The continued success and growth of speciality coffee in the U.K. has given rise to a plethora of new kit and equipment. Some of this equipment seems to be a genuine effort to improve a specific aspect related to coffee brewing, some are evidently rip-offs of existing kit and I can’t help feeling that some have no genuine benefit at all, and are more likely an effort to cash in on the industry.

We like getting our hands on new equipment at the Roastery and we’ll often use it ourselves over a number of weeks before deciding whether or not we think it has a genuine benefit to our customers. Often this kit will end up gathering dust at the back of a cupboard having failed the ‘Carvetii test’ but on some occasions we’ll like something enough to recommend it to our customers, or we might even begin selling it on our website.

There are a number of items on test at the moment including the following:

Click to view slideshow.


Mahlkonig Peak Grinder

We picked up this grinder back in October and it took a while before we fully understood its potential. It’s currently on loan with one of our customers, being put through its paces in a busier environment.

Dripster Cold Coffee Brewer

With spring just around the corner, it was a good time to get our hands on this cold coffee brewer. We’ve used it a couple of times at the Roastery with really positive results and will continue to test it out in the coming weeks.

Brewista Scales

I picked up version 1 of these scales very soon after they were released and while my own
set have stood the test of time, we received numerous

complaints about sets we sold. As such we’ll be biding our time before deciding whether to recommend this updated version.

Push Tamper

When Mike our Technical Support, joined us back in August, he brought this Push Tamper with him and he uses it every day when making coffee. I’m a bit old school in this respect and enjoy using my traditional tamper. I’m hoping to test out the benefits of this tamper in the coming weeks.

Puq Press

Another tamper but this time electronic. I was slightly surprised at the cost of this piece of kit and was sceptical when it arrived at the Roastery. However it has grown
on me over the past few weeks and I really want to test it out against the Push and my traditional tamper.

Loveramics Egg Coffee Cups

I’m a bit fussy when it comes to coffee cups and over the years have tried out numerous types. Aside from coming in a range of colours, these cups have a lovely feel about them. A few more morning coffees will help me decide whether to invest in a set for our new training room.

Acaia Luna Scales

Another set of scales, and while not new on the market, I’ve delayed picking up a set due to the price tag. We’ve had these for a few months now and I am really impressed by them. This set belongs to Mike, our Technical Support, but I am tempted to buy a set for myself!

Bunn Grinder

Again nothing new about this grinder but a piece of equipment we haven’t tested out yet. This arrived at the Roastery earlier this week so we’ll be grinding batches through it in the coming months with a view to recommending it to our customers.

Rhino Hand Grinder

As a big Aeropress fan I was really keen to try out this grinder, which fits neatly into the Aeropress. We took it on holiday to Austria earlier in the year and use it most weekends at home. This is one product which has made it onto our website.

Keeping up with all the new developments in coffee requires more time than we have available to us so if you’ve come across a piece of equipment you think we’d enjoy looking at, please feel free to let us know in the comments below, or alternatively drop us an email.

Déjà Vu February 26 2017, 0 Comments

Just over five years ago our lives were full of excitement, anticipation and just a little bit of fear as we realised our dream of owning our own coffee roasting business. The final pieces of the jigsaw had fallen into place and we were on the cusp of a new and exciting stage in our lives.

From a personal point of view this excitement was tempered a little as I was to remain in my full time teaching post to ensure the business had the best possible start. Angharad had the responsibility of nurturing our business through those first delicate months1. Each day I drove west along the A66 and was given a fleeting glimpse of the building that was to be our coffee Roastery. No matter how many times we passed that point, the excitement never really diminished.

A lot has happened in the intervening five years and our business has grown beyond our expectations. We’ve won awards with Best New Business and Cumbria Life’s Best Small Producer being major highlights. Our coffee is served in numerous places across the UK, we’ve taken part in the Brewers Cup as well as the UK Barista Championships, and we’ve enjoyed numerous coffee festivals. A couple of years ago Caffeine magazine ran a feature on the best micro roasteries in the UK and we found ourselves in the top 5. More recently this very blog has found its way into a top 40 list of coffee blogs2. All this has happened from the original building, which is now not really fit for purpose.

So it’s time for a move! In the next month we’ll be moving to new premises where we can continue to grow our business and provide even more support for our customers. The new premises is twice the size of our existing one and we’re currently developing the inside so it better meets our needs. As well as a much better storage for green beans, we have a larger production area which will allow for both growth and more efficient use of our time. We’ll have a dedicated workshop to service and repair espresso machines. Upstairs, as well as an office, we’ll have an improved training area which will allow us to further improve the quality and frequency of training we offer our customers. We also hope to organise special events for members of the public.

Earlier today we were driving along the A66 once more, though further east this time. For a brief moment the roof of our new premises came into view and we were filled with exactly the same excitement, anticipation and fear we experienced five years ago.

  1. I have to admit she did a wonderful job in those first two years, laying the foundations for where we are today.
  2. Top 40 Coffee Blogs & Websites For Coffee Enthusiasts

On the up February 16 2017, 0 Comments

Over the coming months you can expect the cost of your daily cup of coffee to increase. You might have experienced this increase already, and you might also be aware of price increases across other goods we buy on a day to day basis. We’ve recently increased the price of our coffee so we expect all our customers to add a few pence to the price of the coffee they sell. To bring some transparency to the table I thought it would be interesting to look at what influences the price of coffee.

The first thing to understand is that coffee prices fluctuate all the time. We often hear that coffee is the second largest commodity traded on the Stock Exchange. The two main factors which can influence the price of coffee are climate and supply, both of which are linked. If frost decimates the harvest in a country such as Brazil, for example, the demand for the remaining coffee is going to increase and therefore the price will go up. Similarly if there is a surplus of coffee in the world, price is likely to decrease. Trading on the stock exchange therefore sets a daily price for coffee.

The following chart shows the trend in coffee prices over the past 10 years. We’re currently in a period of increasing prices and we’re likely to remain around this price for the rest of this year.


In general the speciality coffee market, which is where Carvetii firmly sits, is less influenced by the coffee market, as quality is often an overriding factor in the price paid for a particular coffee. The market prices above relate to exchange grade coffee which is the third grade of coffee, with speciality being the first.

And this leads us nicely on to the second factor which affects the price paid for a cup of coffee: quality. There have been instances in the past where the quality of coffee on a farm has increased and the price demanded for this coffee has risen to reflect this improvement. Similarly, a farm which gains a significant recognition, such as a Cup of Excellence Award, is likely to want to charge more for their coffee. This can only be good for the farmer and an aspect of the sector which we particularly like. However, there comes a point where the price of the green beans becomes too high and we can no longer buy them. It’s not that we don’t want to buy at the higher prices, it’s just that we don’t yet have a big enough local market willing to pay these higher prices.

The other main factor we have to take into account is that coffee is traded in US dollars and since the results of the European referendum were declared last June, the value of the pound has dropped against the dollar. On the day before the vote a pound was worth $1.4693 while in January 2017 it was $1.2148, a drop of just over 25 cents. Therefore the same bag of coffee purchased prior to the vote would cost more than if purchased recently. If the cost of the raw product increases, then the cost of the finished product must increase. Simple economics.

If we put all this together, particularly the influence of the drop in the value of the pound, we see a sharp rise in the cost of green coffee beans in the UK. We are now paying 15% more for coffee of the same quality compared to June last year. We’ve also seen increases in the price of many of the other items we buy such as coffee bags and cardboard boxes. Over the past five years we’ve not increased the price of our coffee and during this period we have seen an increase in costs. As such, like many other roasters, we have recently increased the wholesale price of our coffee, and this is likely to be reflected in the price you pay for a cup of coffee. The alternative, which is to buy cheaper green beans, would lower the quality of our coffee and risk the reputation we have built over the past five years.

The establishments who serve our coffee work hard to maintain the high standards we expect of them. At this time of year many are refreshing their skills through our barista training programme and many more local baristas are now perfecting their latte art techniques. All of this takes time and effort, and is an added cost. However, this commitment is aimed at creating a positive experience for you, the customer. It is little wonder that 4 out of the 5 finalists for Best Cafe at this year’s Cumbria Life Food & Drink Awards serve our coffee.

If you’ve experienced a price increase recently please don’t be too hard on the coffee shop concerned, even more so if they’re a small independent. Many think the coffee industry is lucrative and continues to boom. In truth, many coffee shops are doomed to fail in their first two years, and many more will find trading difficult. Competition can be fierce at times and there is always someone willing to undercut everybody else to make shortsighted, and short term gains. I believe the survivors will be those who use high quality products and maintain high standards. In order to do so they will need to charge a higher price for their efforts.

Humble Pie February 01 2017, 0 Comments

As our business has grown over the past five years we’ve each taken on different roles and reponsibilities. Among many other plates I spin in the business, I have assumed the role of green bean buyer. This entails developing relationships with various coffee brokers, developing an understanding of the seasonality of coffee and trying to predict sales so we have a continuous supply of delicious coffee on offer. Increasingly, to ensure we have access to the best coffees, we have to work months ahead. In the next couple of weeks we will be changing the components of our espresso blend, and this particular version should last us around three months. Even before we start roasting this particular blend, I am on the look our for coffees to work with from May onwards.

We purchase coffee from many countries depending on the time of year. Currently we’re working with coffees from countries such as Colombia and Rwanda , and we have our eyes on Tanzania in the coming weeks. The bulk of our coffees come from Africa, South America and Central America. We have a particular roast style and as we have to taste all the coffees we produce, we tend to only work with coffees we enjoy. As such there are some countries and regions we generally do not work with, Indonesia being one of them. Of the coffees I’ve sampled from this region none have really impressed me enough to warrant buying them. I remember a discussion with a fellow roaster a couple of years ago with regards to the poor transport infrastructure in this region. When combined with the climate, it was often difficult to maintain the quality of the coffee during transportation. As such I suppose I have developed a form of ‘coffee block’ with regards to Indonesia and I am likely to bypass them altogether when looking for new beans.

I have obviously communicated this bias to a number of people, particularly Stephen, who is our contact at Mercanta, our main coffee broker. For some time now Stephen has been tempting me to try some coffees from Papua New Guinea, with each attempt ending in failure. However, back in November he was given the perfect opportunity to challenge my prejudices. It just so happened that he was organising a coffee cupping session at the Manchester Coffee Festival. We happened to be there at the time and I agreed to blind taste the coffees, of which there were about sixteen, to ensure I wasn’t influenced by the aforementioned bias. I did a couple of sweeps of the table before deciding on my favourites, and potential purchases for the future. To Stephen’s amusement my top coffee was Virgin Mountain, a coffee from a Papua New Guinea!

Typical smallholder farm.JPG
Typical smallholder farm, Nori Kori Valley, Papua New Guinea

A couple of months later we received our first delivery of Virgin Mountain and I have to say it has lived up to expectations. I’ve pretty much been drinking it all this week as a filter coffee. It has all the things I enjoy in a coffee: acidity, sweetness and fruitiness. The coffee is grown by smallholder farmers in the Nori Kori Valley, with the size of each farm being around 1 to 2 hectares. As this region is very remote, the farmers rely on ‘collectors’ – businessmen who travel from village to village buying coffee cherries (or in the case of Virgin Mountain, coffee 1). Ben Akike, the ‘collector’ in this instance, is now working with local smallholders to improve the quality in Nori Kori. He is much more than a middleman – he plays a vital role in transporting the coffee from the small producers to the dry mill and is also an important link in the quality control chain. They will not pay good prices for poorly prepared parchment.

Nori Kori Valley, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea

If you’re a fan of traditional Indonesian coffees be prepared for something a little bit different with Virgin Mountain. It is now available to buy on our website and if you try a bag please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below.

  1. Parchment: the coffee bean is surrounded by a hard layer of ‘parchment’ inside the coffee cherry. The skin and pulp of the cherry are removed during the first stages of processing, and at this point the coffee bean is referred to as ‘parchment’. This parchment layer is then removed by dry milling.

The Cost of a Cup of Coffee December 01 2016, 0 Comments

I recently watched a food related programme on TV which had a focus on the coffee scene in the U.K. As part of the programme, the cost of producing a cup of coffee was calculated along with the amount of profit for the business. I often have discussions with local coffee shop owners with regards to the price of their coffee and in many instances I feel they could charge a little more. As such the figures quoted on the show caught my attention and I set about a number crunching exercise of my own.

Much of the information available with regards to the cost of producing a cup of coffee relates to high street chains so I’ve merged this data with my own knowledge of costs. The following is based upon an 8oz latte selling at £2.40, which is a price I typically see locally.

First and foremost let’s get rid of the 20% which is going to make its way to the Government through VAT. I often feel business owners underestimate this amount as it accounts for 40p in this instance.

Then there’s the cost of the ingredients, which is coffee, milk and possibly sugar. The coffee will be around 10% (24p) of the cost. The cost of the milk is going to very much depend on the type of milk used and the skill of the barista. A well trained barista will minimise milk wastage, so based upon the price of a typical 4 pint bottle of milk, we’re looking at around 3 to 4% (7 to 10p) of the cost.

In a well managed catering business staff costs should account for no more than a quarter of the income generated. Research by Allegra Strategies1 suggests staff account for 24% of the cost; in the case of our cup of coffee that’s around 58p.

So far our cup of coffee has cost us £1.46 to produce and we’re still not finished with the costs. The same study by Allegra concluded that 15% of the cost will be needed to cover rent and rates, and a further 15% for administration, which is 36p for each. The total cost by now is £2.04, leaving just 36p as profit for the business.

Granted, the aforementioned study was centred around high street chains where rent and rate costs can be high but in my experience many small coffee shop owners struggle to keep their staff costs below 25%. Even allowing for local variations, the overall profit per cup is relatively low. My rough figures suggest a figure of around 15%.

If we now factor in takeaway provision, we need the cost of the cup and lid, as well as maybe a stirrer and sugar. Many local businesses utilise compostable packaging and these work out at around 11p for a cup and nearly 5p for the lid. As the study by Allegra discovered, the cost of the packaging can be almost as much as the ingredients used in the beverage. In this example that’s 7% of the cost for packaging, leaving us with a profit of 8% or around 20p2.

So what can we read into this? I think the consumer is getting a good deal at £2.40 for a latte, particularly if they are being served a good quality coffee. Factor in the ability to relax over that cup of coffee, perhaps with a newspaper, book or free wifi, and the cost really is very low. I think prices need to increase from where they are now and I don’t think it will be too long before we see a 20p increase on the cost of a cup of coffee.

In terms of the coffee shop owner there are a few things to be aware of. An obvious approach, and very common in this part of the country, is to reduce costs to increase the end profit of a coffee. Buy a cheaper coffee and spend less on milk are two obvious approaches but this could easily have the opposite effect. Consumers are more discerning and have access to an increasing array of coffee producing gadgets at home. As such they are becoming more demanding of the coffee they enjoy when out and about. By all means manage costs but increasing spend per transaction is equally important. Similarly getting on top of milk wastage3 can save some extra pennies without impacting on the quality of the coffee. Finally being more aware of costs is vitally important. I still see the occasional establishment who charge less for take away drinks while the numbers clearly show that the margins are already very slim on these beverages.

  1. This research dates back to 2013 and was initially reported the Daily Mail online in September 2013
  2. The aforementioned Allegra Strategy research suggested the profit was around 13%, which echoes the findings of a Speciality Coffee Association of America study in 2011
  3. By managing wastage I do not mean reusing milk, as this is a practice which irritates me. With a little practice, a barista should be able to accurately judge the right amount of milk needed for each of the coffees they are making.

Then and Now (Part 2) November 21 2016, 0 Comments

Five years ago we launched our very first espresso blend which utilised a pulped natural coffee from Brazil, Fazenda Passeio, with a fully washed coffee from Costa Rica, Cafetalera Herbazú. We’ve used this original blend as the inspiration for our most recent version, and while the components have some similarities, the approach we take to roasting has evolved somewhat . . .

Now: November 20161

While the approach we take to roasting has changed, our core principles and beliefs have remained consistent. When a customer drinks our coffee they should get a sense of its origin; it should reflect the combined efforts of all those involved in growing and processing the coffee bean. Our role is to ‘not mess it up’.

We still buy the majority of our coffee through our broker, Mercanta. The relationship we have with them, and in particular our main contact, Stephen, has helped lift our roasting to the level it exists at today. Emails, phone conversations and the occasional face to face contact, has enabled a level of understanding and mutual respect which mirrors how we aim to work with our customers. Stephen knows what coffee we like, has secured some outstanding lots for us and occasionally breaks down prejudices2.

From the outset we merged the precise use of measurements and data with less objective methods, such as taste. This aspect of our business has grown beyond the basic pencil and paper method we relied on in those early days. A second, more accurate probe has been added to the roaster, new controls on the burners allow a greater degree of accuracy and new gauges allow us to quantify the energy we apply to the roast. Each of these additions has come about as our understanding has grown; we have created a coffee roaster specific to what we want to achieve and we still have plans to develop it further. Every roast is now tracked by software though we still rely on pencil and paper to scribble down notes and comments on each profile.

Cropster roasting software
Roast tracking software allows us to analyse the coffee in detail and helps ensure consistency

When we take delivery of a new coffee we now plan our approach in much more detail. As well as information provided by our broker in terms of varietal and altitude, we also take our own measurements of green bean moisture and density. We can delve into our database of similar roasts to help us determine how best to roast that first batch.

Moisture content
The more information we have about a coffee, such as moisture content, the better we can plan our roasting

A big development which occurred soon after we started was a realisation that only one of us was really going to be good at roasting coffee. All our coffee is now roasted by Angharad and while I have a strong input into creating the initial profiles, I actually spend very little time around the roaster. Angharad has the concentration span and attention to detail that I do not possess and these traits have helped her produce some amazing coffees.

Once a coffee is roasted it undergoes more rigorous examination and this is again an area we have developed over the years. The impact of water on coffee was something which caught our attention way back in September 2012 and we wrote a blog post which summarised our thoughts. We revisited this again in December 2015 with another couple of posts and by today we have developed a very good understanding of the relationship between water and coffee. We now create our own ‘ideal water’ to ensure all our cupping takes place under the best conditions possible; we believe that some types of water can hide defects in the roasting and we want our coffee to be enjoyable and accessible no matter where you are located.

Cupping our coffee and testing extraction

This desire for our coffee to be accessible to all leads us on to another characteristic of our coffee which might not have existed in those early days3. We want our coffee to be ‘well developed’. In simple terms we want it to extract relatively easily for the end user. We feel there is no point producing a coffee which is difficult to handle. We are even at the stage now of testing the solubility of individual components in a blend – there is no point in roasting a couple of amazing coffees if they each extract differently when combined together4. Developing our espresso blend is becoming more complex as we aim for higher and higher standards.

Refractometer reading
Before we can begin tasting and judging our coffee we need to be sure we’ve brewed it correctly

In 2011 we embarked on a journey of discovery and along the way have been fortunate to foster some amazing relationships; we’ve had bad times, we’ve had some amazing ones and we’ve enjoyed some delicious coffee along the way. We laid out our principles on day one and have pretty much remained true to those early beliefs. We’ve never sold a bag of ground coffee! A simple enough statement but one which was difficult to adhere to in those early days. Losing sales because of a principle can be hard but I’m glad we managed to battle through. Even today, with so many new roasters emerging onto the scene, all keen to make a sale, it would be easy to lower our standards. But that’s just not the Carvetii way.

  1. you can read part 1 of this blog here
  2. most recently I have rebuffed all attempts to consider a coffee from Papua New Guinea, only to pick it out as a firm favourite in a cupping session
  3. this statement is hard to qualify. Feedback on our coffee from industry peers would suggest that it was well developed. The difference now is that this is by design rather than luck
  4. one part of me thinks the growing trend in single origin espressos is related to a lack of knowledge with regards blending.

Then And Now (Part 1) November 13 2016, 0 Comments

Five years ago to this month we were roasting our very first espresso blend, a 60:40 mix of Fazenda Passeio from Brazil and Cafetalera Herbazú from Costa Rica. I remember launching it to an unsuspecting Cumbrian population and the initial positive, but surprised, feedback we received. So many people we unaware that coffee could produce such flavour, and were equally surprised by the lack of bitterness in the finish. We worked extremely hard on that first blend, a work ethic we have applied to each subsequent version of our espresso blend, in order to ensure it met the high standards we had set ourselves.

Five years on, and we’re about to launch the latest version of our blend. We’re revisiting the same origins as our original blend, and although we’ve not quite managed to source the same farms, we’ve stayed true to the 60:40 mix. From Brazil we’ve chosen Fazenda Capim Branco and the Costa Rican component is shared between Finca La Manzana and Hacienda Sonora. Our intention as a coffee roaster is to harness the origin characteristics and flavours in our roasting, and while this is as true today as it was five years ago, the way in which we set about achieving this has changed a lot.

Then – November 2011
We were very fortunate in our early days to receive a lot of advice and support from some key figures in the coffee industry. Will Corby[1], our account manager at Mercanta, our coffee brokers, gave us some sound advice on the coffee for our initial blend, and we will always be grateful to James Hoffmann and Anette Moldvaer of Square Mile for their advice, support and feedback on those early roasts. The choice of components for that initial blend was very much down to the aforementioned people.

The original sack of Cafetalera Herbazú

Our approach to roasting was very simple: roast a batch, taste it and if it wasn’t good, roast it again. On reflection the use of the word ‘good’ in the previous sentence probably does us a disservice as we set ourselves very high standards.  Over the years a number of batches of roasted coffee have never made it into bags having failed to meet the Carvetii quality standard. In the early days this was particularly painful as a batch of coffee is worth a decent amount of money but there was no way we were selling a below par batch of coffee!

Cupping with the team at Mercanta

The responsibility for roasting was very much shared by the two of us, with both of us huddled over the (sensitive) burner controls, probably more out of a desire to get warm than anything else. There was much debate as we watched and listened to the roast carefully, with time, temperature and other comments meticulously recorded in a note book. We’d had the foresight to equip our roaster with a digital probe so we had a precise reading of drum temperature throughout the roast. While I recording of temperature and time was undertaken with precision, the documentation of burner setting was less so – I distinctly remember terms such as ‘a quarter turn clockwise’ being used.

Some of the earliest notes we kept on our roasts

Our desire to record the stages in roasting was not only to learn more about the art through a ‘cause and effect’ approach’ but also to ensure we provided our customers with a consistent product. We both had numerous years in the hospitality industry under our belts and knew that consistency would be one of the key elements to our long term success.  Some of the items in that first notebook we a precursor of things to come; on some of the early pages I recently came across some density calculations which were an initial attempt to determine the density of the green beans using techniques I’d learnt in school.

Our roaster in 2011

How our coffee tastes has been important to us from the outset and each roast was carefully analysed for flavour. Samples were kept from every batch and we spent a long time tasting our coffees. Initially we cupped the coffees to gain an insight into the flavours and their character but we also tasted them as an espresso, which is how we expected the coffees to be used. At the top me we knew how important the grinder was in this process so we splashed out on a Mazzer Major grinder, leaving little money left for an espresso machine. Luckily our friends at Square Mile stepped in and loaned the a La Marzocco GS3 single group espresso machine. It became apparent from the outset that each of us brought something different to the table when it came to tasting the coffees. Angharad had the ability to quickly identify fragrance, aroma and flavours in the coffee, a skill which even today remains a dark art to me. I have always been able to identify flaws in the roasting, and from the outset adopted a very critical approach.

Five years on, and while our ethos and beliefs have remained constant, the way we approach our roasting has evolved. ‘Evolved’ really is a good fit in this instance as we have developed our skills over time, continually pushing ourselves to learn more, and to adapt this learning to suit our circumstances. What our roasting looks like now is for part 2 of this blog post.

  1. Will later made a move to Pact Coffee where he now holds the role of Head of Coffee  ↩

Complain or Not Complain? September 26 2016, 0 Comments

On a recent day out I made a couple of enquiries as to the likelihood of getting what I would describe as a decent cup of coffee. I tend to drink less coffee these days and if I do part with my hard earned cash, then it’s fair to say I have high expectations.

In this instance the response I received was positive and I was given accurate directions to a particular coffee shop, I was even given the name of the coffee roaster they used.  Things were definitely looking up.

I found the coffee shop easily and was instantly taken by the friendliness, the cakes looked appealing and the menu was noted for future visits. The breakfast menu in particular sounded delicious. More good signs: the espresso machine was a very good make although the accompanying grinder was a little disappointing (more thoughts on this in a future post). I ordered a flat white and cappuccino, and was pleased to be asked whether I wanted chocolate on the cappuccino (a definite ‘No’ by the way). The machine was a three group and had a shot timer visible on each. Yet more good signs: the read outs were 25s, 24s and 25s.

The order before mine involved the brewing of a single serve filter coffee (V60 for those interested). The barista dealt with this order in a confident manner and I eagerly anticipated our order.  Then came the first hint of disappointment.  The next espresso ran at 19s. I had a brief flicker of hope – perhaps this particular shot was for another customer! But no, it was made into a take away cup and we were the only customers waiting in line.  I was willing the barista to discard this particular shot and make another. Surely they could see the shot time and would rather serve a better coffee. Unfortunately they chose to use the espresso and while I did have another momentary flicker of hope (the espresso was used in the cappuccino – not my drink), the next espresso ran at 20s.

So we were served two coffees which we knew were probably not going to be that great. To compound matters the cappuccino was sprinkled with chocolate, in spite of my earlier response. I am now faced with a dilemma. Do I accept the two drinks knowing that they are likely to disappoint or do I go through the awkward ritual of pointing out to the barista that their shot times weren’t good enough and I would like them to make my coffees again?