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Ground Coffee: The Results May 14 2017, 0 Comments

A month ago I set about investigating whether it is possible to sell ground coffee with a three month shelf-life, without the benefit of nitrogen flushing. This was in response to the growing number of local places selling bags of ground coffee, often with a long shelf life and with a high price point. The background to this can be read in a previous blog and what follows are the results of the first tasting.

This experiment, for want of a better word, involved the same coffee, from the same roast and packaged on the same day. However, the coffee was ground as follows:

The first coffee was stored in whole bean form and only ground as needed.

The second coffee was stored in whole bean form until three days before tasting. I then ground the whole bag, replicating a typical transaction which occurs in many coffee shops: a bag of whole bean coffee is sold and the customer asks for it all to be ground.

The third coffee was ground on the day of roasting and packaged straight away.

Part 1: Aroma

The first part of the test was to judge the aroma of the coffee when the bag was opened. The best aroma came from the coffee which had been ground three days previously. It had some delicious spicy tones and a nice intensity. The whole bean coffee had a more muted aroma with some bright notes and delicate hints of spice. The ground bag of coffee had a very flat aroma, offering nothing of interest. This coffee also exhibited a stale aroma.

However, once the beans had been ground they definitely took centre stage. The grounds had a wonderful bright, fresh and intense aroma and were the only ones with fruity notes.

Part 2: Taste

The second part of the test focused on taste. Initially I considered brewing these coffees as you might at home, using a filter or cafetiere. However, taste can be influenced by the brewing process so I opted to cup the coffees, removing as many variables as possible. I also avoided using industry scoring sheets for the tasting as I wanted to reflect the experience in a more user friendly format. It is also worth noting the coffees were tasted blind so we had no idea what was in each bowl until the end.

Each of the coffees are described below:

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Coffee 1: The Beans

This coffee had a moderate acidity at the front end which seemed to develop over multiple exposures. It was the only coffee in which the fruity tones could be tasted, a characteristic which we would expect from this particular coffee. The coffee was also very sweet with a creamy mouthfeel. Overall a really balanced coffee with plenty of interest in the cup.

As the coffee cooled it became even more interesting, resulting in exciting flavours of fruit gums!

Coffee 2: Ground three days prior to tasting

This coffee had much less acidity and brightness than the beans but had a good amount of sweetness. As such the coffee felt much less balanced though this gave a more pronounced aftertaste. The coffee cooled reasonably well but without the excitement of the beans.

Coffee 3: Ground before packing

There was no brightness or acidity in the cup and overall the flavours were flat. The cup was still sweet and the creamy mouthfeel was retained. I wouldn’t suggest the coffee was unpleasant, just lacking.

The most noticeable difference came about as the coffee cooled – it did not cool anywhere near as well as the other two cups.

To be honest I really didn’t expect these results to be as clear cut as they were. I expected the beans to taste the best but thought the ground coffee would have held up much better. It’s worth reminding ourselves that all the coffees were one month old, which is at the end of the shelf life we place on our beans and yet only a third of the way through the shelf life of some ground products which are appearing on our shelves.

The most noticeable difference between the beans and the other two coffees was the fruit tones in the cup. This aspect in particular was missing from the ground coffees, which also resulted in them cooling less well. Ultimately the ground coffee did not reflect the origin flavours and characteristics of the coffee, which is at the very heart of the concept of ‘speciality’, and which allows coffee roasters to demand a higher price point.

I still want to taste the three coffees a week after opening as this is how long it might take to consume a typical bag. It’s all very well a coffee tasting good the opened for the first time (or not in the case of the grounds above), but we should also expect the coffee to last for a reasonable period. I’m most interested in the impact on the beans over this period but it will also be interesting to see whether either of the other two coffees retain any interesting characteristics.



Finca El Chocho May 01 2017, 0 Comments

Most of us at Carvetii love drinking coffees from East Africa, with their bright, citrus, fruity notes. From Rwanda over the winter months to Ethiopia and Kenya in the summer, we will use as many coffees from this region as we can. However, there is also a place in our offering for very easy drinking coffees, such as Finca El Chocho from the Antioquia region of Colombia. When you drink this coffee you experience a balanced acidity, a soft brown sugar sweetness and lingering notes of milk chocolate. It’s difficult not to drink a second cup!

The Region

Antioquia is regarded as the birthplace of coffee in Colombia. The main harvests take place between September and December with a fly or mitaca crop between April and May.

The Farm

12719211_795438600587525_3060931886878976721_o.jpgJuan Crisostomo Marin and his wife, Margarita Lopez Diaz, purchased Finca El Chocho in 1983. When they first married (nearly a decade earlier), they had agreed that their wedding present to themselves would one day be to buy their own farm and that they would finally stop working on other peoples farms as labourers. Buying El Chocho, named after the ‘Chocho’ (Ormosia var.) tree that grows near the farm’s patio, was the realisation of that joint project, and the couple have never looked back since.

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They have since joined up with the Cooperativa de Caficultores de Andes (Cooperandes), a regional cooperative whose microlot program has helped transform Antioquia’s coffee industry, and have managed to develop a very high quality coffee with the coop’s help. Truly, the farm is an equal partnership. Doña Margarita attends the regular trainings that Cooperandes holds and is widely recognised as a leader in her town. Don Crisostomo (as he is called locally) conducts most of the work on the farm, along with his son, who helps with every task. Together, the family has worked hard to make the farm the very best it can be, and they have even succeeded in gaining Fair Trade certification for the farm. The earnings have been enough that Don Criostomo’s daughter has been able to continue her studies.

The Varietals

Caturra is a natural mutation of the bourbon varietal. It is a dwarf varietal and allows more trees to be grown per hectare, and has a higher productivity level.

Colombia is a catarrh and timor hybrid, which is highly productive and resistant to leaf rust. It was first released in 1982.

Harvesting and Processing

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All coffee at El Chocho is hand harvested, sorted to remove any underripe or damaged cherries and then pulped on the same day it is picked. Coffee is fermented in tanks for around 36 hours and afterwards is washed in cool, clean

water. It is finally delivered to dry on parabolic beds under the sun. These parabolic beds, known locally as marquesinas – which are constructed a bit like ‘hoop house’ greenhouses, with airflow ensured through openings in both ends – both protect the parchment from rain and mist as it is dried and prevent condensation from dripping back on the drying beans.
After reaching 11 per cent humidity, the coffee is bagged and then stored to rest for 2 weeks, after which it is taken to the Andes collecting centre for dry milling.

You can buy this coffee from our website



Ground Coffee April 28 2017, 0 Comments

One of the founding principles of our business has been to never sell ground coffee. We apply this principle to both our retail and wholesale customers and have stood by this belief since we established Carvetii back in 2011. To accompany this principle we always write the ‘roasted on’ date on our bags and advise our customers to use the coffee within one month of roasting. This principle was laid down after a period of testing at the Roastery, along with plenty of research, and is aimed at ensuring that our customers receive our coffee in the best possible condition.

This principle does mean that some people are not able to use our coffee at home without investing in a grinder. Others really don’t want the hassle of grinding their own coffee and would choose to buy ground coffee. In some instances, retailers will not stock our coffee because we do not offer it in ground form. While this inevitably prevents us from making sales to these individuals, we cannot bring ourselves to sell our coffee in ground form.

The point of buying speciality coffee with a clear provenance is that, when roasted, you can clearly taste the flavours and characteristics which are a result of the growing and processing on the farm/mill. Our approach to roasting coffee allows these characteristics to come to the fore. However, these flavours are volatile in nature; in other words they are affected by oxygen. Exposure to the air for any period of time will degrade these volatile compounds. In bean form, only the outside of the coffee is exposed to oxygen, while in ground form, a much greater surface areas is exposed, and therefore the coffee degrades quicker.

Even in bean form, we have a relatively short shelf-life on our coffee. When we pack our coffee, we cannot guarantee the atmosphere in the bag is oxygen free and therefore the beans will slowly be affected by any residual oxygen which remains. It is possible to nitrogen-flush bags of coffee to remove all traces of oxygen but this adds another process which we feel is unnecessary.  If we ground our coffee, the residual oxygen in the bag would have an even greater impact, and it is likely that our customers would not experience the coffee in its best possible condition.

Nitrogen flushing, a preservation process common in the food industry, has its issues when it comes to coffee: once the bag has been opened, the coffee inside has been exposed to the air and therefore is likely to degrade very quickly. No nitrogen flushing can protect the coffee once the bag has been opened. Given that a typical 250g bag of coffee contains around eighteen servings (at 14g per serving), at a rate of one coffee per day, the grounds would be exposed to oxygen for nearly three weeks.

We are now seeing ground coffee appearing locally on shelves with a three month shelf-life, and it is highly unlikely that this coffee has been nitrogen flushed. While on the one hand I can understand the desire to get a product onto shelves (we have been faced with this dilemma many times), there seems to be an inconsistent message here. The Specialty Coffee Association of America states:

specialty1 can only occur when all of those involved in the coffee value chain work in harmony and maintain a keen focus on standards and excellence from start to finish

It’s the use of the term ‘excellence’ here that is pertinent when it comes to ground coffee. Without some form of preservation, is it possible to deliver an excellent product to the customer when it exists in ground form?

Putting it to the test?

Not one to rest on our laurels, we’ve designed a little experiment to put this to the test. A couple of weeks ago we saved three bags of coffee from the same roast, packaging them in the same bags we would use for retail sales. Around three weeks after roasting we’re going to brew each of these coffees in order to determine the effect of grinding. Given that we’re seeing coffee on the shelves with a three month lifespan, this timescale is relatively short, but we’re also going to repeat the test a week after opening the coffee. The bags are as follows:

In the first bag we’ve packaged the coffee in the same way we normally would. The coffee is in whole bean form and will be exactly as we would send out to our customers. We’ll be grinding this coffee just before we brew it, and we’ll only be grinding enough for that particular session. The coffee will then be stored in its bag for a week before we taste it again.

The second bag also contains coffee in whole bean form. However, a day before the brewing we’re going to grind the whole bag of coffee. This process replicates a customer who asks a coffee shop to grind the coffee for them. There is an honesty in this transaction: the customer buys the coffee in whole bean form but then asks for it to be ground; they are very much aware of when the coffee is ground. This coffee will also be stored in its original packaging until the second tasting a week later.

The third bag contains ground coffee. We ground this coffee on the day of roasting and just before we packed it and sealed it. This replicates a bag of ground coffee which sits on the shelf waiting for a customer to buy it. As with the other two, we’ll be keeping the coffee in its original packaging until the second tasting a week later.

To avoid too much bias when it comes to the tasting, we’ll be cupping the coffees blind. In other words, at the time of tasting we won’t know which coffee we’re actually trying. We’ll write up the results on this blog once both tasting sessions have been completed.

  1. We use the term ‘speciality’ in the UK, while in the US the term ‘specialty’ is used


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

    http://blog.feedspot.com/coffeeblogs/



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.

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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.

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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.