By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
Take Interstate 5 through Seattle and you will find yourself traversing one of the most iconic coffee trails in the World. Heading downtown you pass Elm and Slate Coffee Roasters on 2nd Av before hitting the behemoth Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Pike Street. You skirt Vitrola and Stumptown Roasters and the renowned Ugly Mug café heading north, accounting for a huge swathe of the coffee supply chain in America and world-wide.
Seattle’s rise as the world centre for coffee roasting and coffee supply chain management can be attributed to one thing; counterculture. Coffee had become mass-marketed and mass-produced by the same means across the country which led it to be perceived as an old-fashioned drink of the older generation. But as young adults started to break this mould in the 1950s and ‘60s, more experimental styles broke through in the coffeehouses of University Way which soon become the hotpot for Seattle counterculture.
Alfred Peet led the surge with home-roasted Columbian beans that took off among hippies looking for the European flavour. Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegel were among that crowed and had convinced Peet to sell him the beans so they could set up a small, quality roasting business in Seattle. That business was Starbucks.
Roasting: The bean’s pedigree
Beans have become the wine grapes of the coffee world. Now, more than ever, the coffee bean’s pedigree is everything. Roasting coffee transforms the chemical and physical properties of green coffee beans into roasted coffee products, producing the characteristic flavour of coffee.
Like grapes, the notion of terroir was rediscovered by pioneers such as Peet and Jim Stewart et al, who brought regional expressions to the surface through new-age roasting techniques. This so-called ‘golden age’ for the bean is behind the boom of high-street coffee chains which, in turn, have instigated a revival of small-scale coffee roasters and a trend toward “single-origin” coffees served at speciality shops.
Down the Coffee Line
Like Seattle’s Route 5, London is undergoing a coffee renaissance of small-scale roasters that is underpinned by large-scale producers. Take the train from Clapham Junction to London Waterloo and you will detect a strong toasting smell emanating from Caffè Nero roastery in Battersea which skirts the train track emblazoned with the bold blue branding. The plant roasts all Café Nero beans under the guidance of Gaetano, the chief roaster, and his team who create the signature blend.
Take a look inside here:
A short journey along the line between Vauxhall and London lies the heart of Costa Coffee’s brewing empire. It receives hundreds of sacks of coffee beans from around the world and distributes them to more than 3,000 Costa coffee shops around the world. Some 8,000 tonnes are roasted at the plant each year supplying the rapidly expanding coffee chain.
Take a look inside here:
There are almost 30 small-scale roasters in London, most of whom have on-site cafes. For a full list of outlets, click here.