Ireland’s relationship with coffee roasting has shifted in the last five years, with an increase from 8 to 50 Irish roasters since 2013.
Coffee roasting is the process of applying heat to green coffee beans to create roasted coffee products. The process requires dedication and patience; and is the key that unlocks aroma and gives that characteristic flavour that many enjoy in their cups every morning.
As a result, the coffee industry has been shifting its focus from the product itself, to the person and stories behind the cup.
Stephen Houston is Head Roaster for Bailies Coffee Belfast: “I’ve been working as a roaster solely for four years, I’ve never worked as a barista, never worked in a coffee shop.
“The artisan style of roasting is what I really fell in love with,” he continues.
“There are interesting learning curves coming from that point of view… In my short time, I’ve roasted four and a half thousand production roasts, and about a thousand sample roasts.”
Stephen won the Irish Brewers Cup in 2017 and came third this year: “It was a dream come true,” he says. “I’m a very competitive person.”
Recently, Stephen has become part of the membership committee for the Coffee Roaster’s Guild (CRG). The CRG is the global trade guild of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) “dedicated to inspire a diverse coffee roasting community through the development and promotion of the roasting profession”.
The relationship with farmers who grow the beans is an essential part of the business: “[We] connect with farmers and being able to buy off them year after year; they get confidence [because] we’re always going to pay a certain price… [and] meet certain criteria.
“We negotiate the price directly with the producer, not the importers or traders…It’s confidence for us that we’re going to maintain really nice relationships with these amazing farmers.”
Mr. Houston believes that transparency in the coffee industry creates the ideal product for the customer. “Transparency is something that we’re really keen to see,” he says.
“I take most of the quality control side from when coffee arrives into our warehouse until it goes out to our customers … passion for the work is what makes the perfect cup of coffee: “It makes me a better person, better roaster, better brewer.”
The Irish coffee industry as we know it today has been influenced by European and Scandinavian values.
Per Nordby is a Swedish coffee roaster based in Göteborg, Sweden. He travels to Central America and East Africa annually to meet with the farmers, millers and exporters he trades with. His speciality coffee roastery Kafferostare Per Nordby was founded in 2013.
What roasters look for in the end product is what makes this style of coffee making so unique. “I like to find an end product that can tell a story, because coffee…comes from someone,” said Per.
The stereotype of a businessman rushing through South William Street with an espresso in his hand is not what coffee roasting represents.
Fika is a key part of coffee culture in Sweden explains Per: “We sit down…with friends or co-workers and we’ll drink [coffee].”
Fika is a term used in Sweden for the coffee break that allows people in the industry to slow down, appreciate their brew, and relax for a few minutes. This idea has found its way into Irish coffee shops in recent years … while challenging the stereotype of a bustling city filled with people too busy to take a break.
“Every coffee that we sell is a coffee that I would enjoy myself.”
Per started as a barista in 1999. “Coffee was fairly new in Scandinavia. Barista was a new word that people learned.”
In 2007, roasting was in its early stages around Europe. There was only one trader in Europe that could provide the quality Per was looking for and he spent a lot of time travelling trying to find alternatives “trying to get transparent” with the industry: “Over the years when I worked behind the bar, things changed dramatically.
“Today that’s a totally different story, now there are plenty of traders.”
From late 2010 after Instagram was launched, coffee culture was diverted. “It’s still a lot about how [coffee] looks,” said Per. The perfect latte or cappuccino art-work filled the social platform to the point of suffocation, with thousands of new coffee posts every day. The hashtag #COFFEE has seen over 97 million posts as of October 2018.*
Three years later in 2013 he started roasting, and his experience allowed him to begin doing business with contacts and traders he had previously built relationships with while travelling.
The concept of roasting is a people-based way of business; putting the experience of the consumer at its core: “We want to maintain the diversity that exists in coffee, while not sacrificing taste,” said Per.
“I believe there’s plenty of room for [more] roasters than we have today.” There are many small towns without local roasteries, and although some may fail at the beginning it may be another factor and “not because the market’s not big enough”.