Hessian sacks of various sizes, a bright red Diedrich roaster, and collected coffee paraphernalia greet visitors to Courtyard Coffee Roasters, just off Eccleshall’s High Street.
Wooden shelves are filled with glass canisters of loose leaf tea – greens and oolongs as well as black teas and rooibos – single origin chocolate, mostly from Madagascar, and real hot chocolate. But it’s the aroma of coffee, freshly roasted and freshly ground, that fills the air.
Owner David Wiggins originally established the roastery as a training school for baristas, but it has since morphed into a retail shop. He also sells online and supplies a handful of independent cafés and restaurants, some with their own unique blend.
David’s adventures in coffee began in the 1980s when he and his wife had a deli in Dresden, Stoke-on-Trent. He came upon an antique machine and started roasting his own coffee. In 1990, he set up Rapido Coffee Services, an exhibition service he ran successfully for around 20 years while simultaneously taking charge of Eccleshall café The Artisan (now Sancerre), the neighbouring bakery, and the roastery. Finding himself spread a little thin, David’s focus is now on Courtyard Coffee and his passion for these flavoursome beans.
The bulk of the world’s coffee is grown in Central and South America – Brazil is the biggest producer – but large quantities are grown in Africa, some in India, and quite a bit in Indonesia and elsewhere in southeast Asia. Each origin has its own particular qualities, led by the climate and geology of the region where it’s grown. While coffee trees need rainfall to flower, too much rain can damage the crop. The fruit, bright red when ripe, is called a cherry. Usually picked by hand, their preparation has a big effect on the finished flavour.
“The processing is quite involved,” explains David. “You have to get rid of the cherry to get to the seed. The fruit is removed by either the dry method or the wet method, often depending on the climate in the country of origin. Half-processed coffee beans are coated in a hard shell known as parchment, which is removed by hulling. Now the green coffee, as it’s called, is ready for roasting.”
The green coffee arrives in sacks weighing 50kg, 60kg or 69kg depending on which part of the world it has come from. While a large roaster will process a whole sack at once, one of these will last David a couple of months. He roasts in small batches of only 2.5kg of green beans at a time, yielding 2kg of roasted beans due of the loss of moisture as they’re heated.
“I’m not really big enough to buy direct from the plantations, and that’s almost a full time job in itself,” David tells Sauce. “You need to have feet on the ground. So I buy from four or five independently run, ethical importers who in turn buy direct from the plantations. They pay better than Fairtrade rates and in some cases they will buy the smallholders’ entire crop, certainly a year ahead and sometimes a couple of years in advance.”
People are more interested in individual origins these days, and growers are actively encouraged to seek their own markets, whereas previously they were very heavily discouraged from doing so. David believes the next revolution in the global supply chain of crops like coffee will be blockchain. Rather than finding new routes to market, the goal is transparency and traceability. Companies such as iFinca in Central America – which a lot of Colombian producers are already using – are setting the bar for its integration into commercial networks.
Although he claims not to have particular favourites when it comes to coffee, David is partial to Indonesian, Indian and some Central American origins.
“I keep coffee from around 20 different producing countries, only because we’re limited by space. I’ve usually got a Costa Rican, El Salvadoran, Colombian and either Honduran or Nicaraguan. Always Peruvian, because people like it, and Mexican when possible – it’s hard to get the ones I favour. And I always keep decaffeinated coffee, sometimes as many as four types.”
The El Salvador is very popular due to its sweet and chocolatey tasting notes, but David’s bestseller – largely because he supplies one couple who get through a kilo a week – is Indian Monsoon Malabar. It’s stored under cover in mesh-sided warehouses during the rainy season, to allow humid air to circulate around the beans and alter their flavour. The tasting notes are copper, tobacco, leather.
“The effect of the extra humidity is that the beans swell and so the chaff falls off,” says David. “It makes it slightly sour, and the end result is very good if you like that style. In the days of the Empire, when coffee was transported to the UK and the rest of Europe by sailboat, the journey would take around 6 months, and while the sacks were in the hold they’d absorb humidity from the sea. People got used to that flavour, so when steam came in and the journey time was reduced to weeks, they noticed the difference. To try to recreate it, this monsooning process was developed, and it’s now mostly carried out in Mangaluru on the southwestern coast of India.”
As coffee beans are roasted, each half of the seed splits along one side and the chaff – or silverskin – falls away and burns off. The acids, proteins and sugars in the coffee expand until the stage when it opens up with a crack. That cracking sound indicates the roast is nearly complete.
“If I’m making a blend I’ll probably roast them separately so each is roasted to it’s best. If you take three or four types of bean and roast them all together, one of them will be perfect but the others will be over or under done. Usually the roast time is around 12 minutes, but some will be done at 10; others will take 14. You need to judge by eye, aroma and sound.”
When it comes to turning the beans into a more brew-able form, a burr grinder is the best. Propeller blades tend to be too effective, producing an almost floury and slightly uneven grind.
“If you grind coffee for an espresso too fine, the water struggles to get through, and you’ll end up with a coffee that’s so bitter you won’t be able to drink it. That’s known as over-extraction.”
When using the filter method, pouring over the water – ideally at a temperature between 88-92 degrees Celsius – produces a bloom of tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide which will be familiar to anyone who uses a cafetière or drip coffee maker. There’s nothing wrong with giving it a little shake to get a more even extraction.
“I tend to brew at about 90 degrees,” shares David. “Using the burr grinder and filter method, you get the true aroma of the bean released. The coffee industry is always searching for that aroma in the cup, but you never really get it.”
Courtyard Coffee Roasters
14d High Street, Eccleshall, ST21 6BZ