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“Black as midnight on a moonless night.”
That’s how Special Agent Dale Cooper describes how he likes his coffee in David Lynch’s cult TV show Twin Peaks. But coffee culture has moved beyond the humble drip brew since the ’90s. For some people, making coffee is a craft requiring absolute respect and precision. Currently being brewed at the Rapha Cycle Club London is arguably some of the finest coffee this side of the Snoqualmie River, having recently partnered with London-based roaster, Workshop. I spoke to Workshop’s Stuart Ritson and RCC London’s Head Barista, Jonny Hines, about the art of delicious coffee.
Stuart, tell me about the ethos of Workshop.
First and foremost we are a coffee company dedicated to sourcing, roasting and serving exceptional coffee. For us it is about supplying the cleanest, sweetest and freshest coffee. This means attention to detail in everything we do, including regular and strenuous quality checks. We also pursue restaurant-quality food, curated drinks and personal customer service at both our retail locations. We’re a wholesale coffee supplier to other independent cafés including the Rapha Cycle Club in Soho.
You work closely with coffee producers around the world?
At Workshop we’re focused on sourcing the best possible quality coffee. To be able to ensure that we work with producers at origin to continually improve. This means frequently visiting countries in the tropics and mountainous regions of Africa and South America to meet farmers and ensure we’re using the best coffee, both in terms of quality and ethics. Also having a personal relationship with your suppliers means that we can ensure there is an ongoing financial benefit for everyone in the chain.
This year we were lucky enough to be involved in the ‘One Farmer, One Roaster’ programme. We worked with Ethiopian coffee farmer Olke Bire – who we visited late last year and intend to visit again in early 2014. Normally Ethiopian coffee is sold by collectives of farmers but this programme allows roasters to buy coffee direct from individual farms. We also paid an extra $1 per kilo purchased. This additional money was earmarked for infrastructure investment at Olke Bire’s farm. Another part of this programme was sending roasted coffee back to the farmers, which is something that rarely happens.
You have some quite famous clients buying Workshop beans?
We sell our coffee worldwide: From New York to Budapest. We aim to offer coffee that is an affordable luxury and we are proud that Workshop coffee is served in local cafes and famous restaurants alike. In particular, we were recently fortunate enough to showcase our coffee at René Redzepi’s (of NOMA fame) food symposium, MAD.
It seems Workshop are interested in the whole epicurean experience?
People who love great coffee also appreciate great wine, beers, food and cakes. We’re very lucky to be able to produce a diverse range of fresh foods that we serve in both our stores. Our staff take pride in sharing these products with our guests. Coffee is a big part of Workshop – but we aim to deliver quality in everything we do.
Jonny, what’s your take on the whole coffee experience at the Cycle Club?
Rapha is all about doing things to the best quality, just like Workshop. So offering the best coffee to our customers was imperative. The team has successfully made the Rapha Cycle Club a destination for cyclists and put the RCC firmly on London’s specialty coffee map.
The club has a really nice vibe and has a real diverse clientele. Many of our regulars come purely for the coffee, and some purely for the cycling; obviously we hope to change this on both sides. Coffee culture in London has exploded over the last few years with vast improvements in the quality and number of independent coffee shops. It’s great to be recognised as part of that. We are fortunate enough to have the best coffee, equipment and knowledge to do so.
Apart from the equipment, why do you think the Club serves such great coffee?
It’s important to keep variety. We always have two espressos on, our house ‘Cult of Done’ by Workshop which itself changes seasonally and a guest, which is primarily a rotation of German roaster Johannes Bayer (JB).
What do you like about Workshop?
Similarly to Rapha, working closely with athletes to better the products, Workshop work closely with their farmers to achieve the best quality. We know they only buy the highest quality crop from a selection of small farms. As harvests are smaller, this means the batches change every few months, keeping it new and exciting for us and our customers.
How did you get into the whole barista thing?
When I was a teenager I would go over to visit my brother Krys in Canada and he would force espresso down me from this great classic orange Gaggia he had in his kitchen before we went on a ride. He established his own cycling themed café a few years back called ‘Domestique-Café Cyclo Sportif’ in Dundas, Ontario. I worked a summer there and it gave me the bug. Coffee and cycling is a great combination. A lot of the skills and knowledge I have today I have learned from my brother, and the previous head baristas at the Rapha Cycle Club, Will Hilliard, Tony Johnson and Paul Bonna.
What makes the perfect espresso?
There are so many different variables to take into consideration when making an espresso. First off, the coffee has to be good. Then there’s the equipment: we use a custom Synesso Hydra, two Anfim Super Caimanos and we have a reverse osmosis water filtration unit. The barista helps too… We clean out our grinders every night and start again in the morning. It’s called ‘dialling in’ – adjusting the grinder and fine tweaking the recipe until the espresso tastes its best.
I say recipe, because we weigh and time the whole process: the dosage (dry weight), the wet weight (yield) and the extraction time. These are the variables we can control. For example, we know Workshop ‘Cult of Done’ works best at certain extraction times and dosages. If the shots pulled aren’t within these parameters then the shot is discarded. We use the numbers as a guide for quality control throughout the day. It’s also important for the espresso to be tamped (pressed into the filter basket) cleanly and evenly. Tamp pressure is subjecthive.
Temperature and humidity play a big part in the consistency of the coffee grind. We can have the espresso tasting great, then a group of hot and sweaty cyclists come into the shop and we will have to change the grind setting and dosage because of the rise in temperature and humidity.
What Workshop coffee are you currently brewing?
At the moment, Workshop’s Cult of Done. Its 100% Hunkute, a coffee from the Sidamo region of Ethiopia. Think honeyed sweetness, balanced with a blackberry-like acidity with aromas of peach and jasmine.
What other coffees?
A variety of African and South American single-origin filter coffees from JB are available on our batch brewer, Aeropress and Kalita.
How do you make coffee at home?
Decent espresso machines are expensive, so at home I make myself filter coffee. Filter coffee tends to have a bad rep, and people turn their noses up at it – but it’s come a long way from a pot that’s been sat in an American Diner all day. If the right beans and brewing methods are used filter coffee can be amazing. Comparatively, I think of espresso as whisky and filter like wine.
I use a Porlex hand grinder so the coffee is freshly ground, and brew with either an Aeropress or a Kalita. Like with espresso, everything is weighed and timed for correct extraction. Water is important too, so I use a filter. It may sound excessive but by taking a couple of extra minutes you are guaranteed a great cup every time.