It’s a damp Friday afternoon in London and I’m lounging in the humidor room of a cigar shop with Amir Gehl, founder of Difference Coffee Co. Apart from the fact we’re smoking inside, what’s perhaps most surprising is the fact that (at four o’clock) all eight seats are filled with men who leisurely smoke fat cigars and drink wine, or coffee, as if it’s far later in the evening.
“I haven’t always drunk coffee”, Amir explains, reclining in his plush armchair and taking a long drag from his Cuban cigar, like Tony Montana. “My son just turned three and I remember we bought a coffee machine before my wife got pregnant. I had tried it several times, mostly at dinner parties, but never really enjoyed it that much. Most of the time I’ve found the coffee to be too bitter, almost burnt, so I was content with my tea. Eventually, my wife coerced me into purchasing a Nespresso machine. I started drinking espresso, adding either sugar or cream and grew to like the drink. It wasn’t long before I became curious as to where the best coffees in the world are grown, and how could I get my hands on them?”
Eager to learn more, Gehl visited Harrods (where else?) to explore their best coffee. “At the top, coffee is sold by origin, most often from a single estate, rather than a blend – a bit like wine and whisky,” he declares. “After buying a little sample of their Kona and putting it into a DIY Nespresso capsule, I knew there and then that I must drink this quality of coffee regularly. I also figured my friends would pay a premium above what they do regularly for something special, and that’s really when Difference Coffee Co. started.”
I think that convenience is extremely important when it comes to everything nowadays, and the same is true here.”
Befriending the world’s top coffee farmers over the space of 18 months, Amir Gehl’s Difference Coffee Co. uses their finest produce, which is on par with first growth wines, using only one per-cent of the world’s coffee produce that’s considered ‘Specialty Coffee’. These coffee beans are then roasted and packed by Jonny England, one of just 25 licensed Quality Coffee Graders in the UK. Alongside supplying numerous high-end restaurants, Difference Coffee is available to purchase through the company’s website, joining an exclusive member’s club of sorts, which promotes fairness, considering the rarity and short supply of specific coffees. Panama Geisha beans, for instance, are auctioned just once per year, with Esmeralda Special Auction Grand Reserve Geisha representing the Estate’s pinnacle beans.
Comprising 100 per-cent Arabica beans, gathered from multi award-winning estates, Difference Coffee Co.’s terroir-led coffee is all available via the convenient one-touch Nespresso system. “I think that convenience is extremely important when it comes to everything nowadays, and the same is true here,” Gehl explains. “The capsules stop the coffees from oxidizing and degassing – these are the two ways in which coffee loses flavours. So as long as one uses a capsule which is hermetically sealed and nitrogen flushed; and as long as the coffees are of specialty grade, the cup of coffee will taste really good.”
Amir pauses to enjoy his cigar and I ask why he’s chosen Dunhill Tobacco’s St James store for our meeting? “Cigars and Coffee are complimentary products. Both are terroir driven, both rely on excellence in farming and production, and both are enjoyed through the olfactory and gustatory sensory systems. I think that for each individual, the perfect pairing might be different depending on the cigar and coffee profiles one chooses. I like to smoke light to medium bodied cigars with coffees which are more acidic and floral in nature. They tend to be lighter and more delicate and they don’t get over-powered by the smoke.” From Difference Coffee Co.’s repertoire, I taste a number of coffees. Served in a gold espresso cup, the elusive Panama Geisha is unlike any coffee I’ve ever tasted: acidic and floral without the acerbic bitterness so often associated with black, unsweetened coffee.
Next, Wild Kopi Luwak – often considered ‘the world’s most expensive coffee’. The main reasoning for Kopi Luwak’s high price is attributed to its uncommon production method. Indonesian palm civet cats are particularly fond of berries foraged from coffee trees, consuming only the ripest berries. Through the cats’ digestive process, the skin is removed but the coffee beans aren’t digested. Instead, the natural enzymes found in the civet’s intestines make the beans less acidic and, as a result, less bitter. The coffee beans – passed within the cats’ faeces – are then washed, dried, pounded, sorted then roasted. As a result of the production method, the coffee has a unique flavour, high in aroma, smooth and with prominent chocolate and nut flavours with sweet caramel undertones.
“After deciding to create a little coffee company, I had this little problem: I knew nothing about coffee, so I decided to find somebody who does [Jonny England].” Amir explains, “In doing so, I discovered the Specialty Coffee Association grading system. Coffee is graded according to a 100-point system, and any coffee that scores 80 points and over is deemed specialty grade. Only licensed Graders – known as Q Graders – can grade coffee, and it takes roughly three years for a coffee professional to have the experience necessary to pass the Q exam, which was developed by the Coffee Quality Institute.”
Striving to produce the best possible coffee, Difference Coffee Co. seeks the coffee beans which have been professionally graded as the highest in each country. To do so, they buy competition winning coffees, which are sold through auctions. These include the Kona Cupping competition, Best of Panama and Cup of Excellence. “In this sense, it’s not Difference Coffee that received the award, it’s the actual Estate which received the award and that is why we buy them in the first place,” he continues. “It is also why we feel confident in saying that our coffees really are the finest in the world. It’s not a marketing claim, it’s based on something tangible.”
Further information on Difference Coffee Co. can be found here.