In the 14 years since Clifton Coffee Roasters launched, we have successfully built a business that proudly supplies nearly 400 wholesale partners as well as a large number of retail customers across the UK with an unprecedented level of service and supply. We have become one of the largest espresso machine distributors in Europe for La Spaziale and La Marzocco and we have ranked in the top two at both national and international coffee barista competitions, several times over.
As with many specialty coffee roastersin the UK, we began life as a wholesale distributor using the services and expertise of a contract roaster (with whom we still work today to help support a large and very important part of our business.) However, in 2013 we decided the time was right to install our own roastery and expand our offering to include a range of specialty coffees that we would source, roast and sell with a dedicated commitment to quality, flavour and provenance. The market had changed, and we needed to change with it.
Almost exactly one year ago today, we turned on our Diedrich IR-12 roaster, fresh off the boat from the manufacturers in Idaho and with it launched into what has been the most exciting year for all of us here at Clifton Coffee Roasters – the culmination of months of hard work & planning.
We had been test roasting literally hundreds of small samples on our Probatino 1kg for weeks prior to the Diedrich arriving so that once it was commissioned and operational, we were some way down the line in understanding what coffees we wanted to open our roastery with and how we wanted to position our offering within the context of the overall business.
The first coffee we bought was a yellow bourbon from Fazenda Pantano in Minas Gerais, Brazil and I am thrilled that one year on we have just received our second shipment from the same farm; this time a european exclusive to Clifton Coffee for a new topazio varietal that Wagner Ferrero and his family have been experimenting with over the past few harvests. Our first order one year ago was for 4 bags. Our second was for 54.
The topazio becomes the 21st coffee that we have bought in the past 12 months and there is no doubt we now have a much better understanding as a roasting team of how to get the best out of this coffee and every other.
One of our biggest challenges, as I am sure most new roasteries will sympathise with, was getting to understand how best to utilise our particular roaster. Unlike most traditional jet burner roasters like Probat, Joper or Petroncini, Diedrich base their roasters on infrared burner technology which means the application of heat into the roasting drum is slightly different to a conventional jet burner. There is also a particularly variable control of airflow through the roaster which can dramatically alter the flavour profile of the coffee.
Perhaps crucially, as a result of the combined burner & airflow technology, the Diedrich also produces cleaner exhaust gasses and burns less fuel.
Over the course of the past year, myself and my roasting team have come to the conclusion that there is most definitely more than one way to skin a cat! We use the roaster in a way that we feel over time has resulted in showing our coffees in their cleanest, sweetest and most characterful way. But we are very careful to try and not impart a particular style on our roasting, preferring more to let our selection of coffees define our style rather than the way we roast them.
I see it as my job to simply select the very best coffees and find a way to show their true character in the cup through the roast process. But one thing that we have insisted on in our roasting philosophy from day one is that we will always try to find a suitable filter and espresso roast profile for each coffee. This has posed various challenges for us along the way because of course not all coffees work for espresso and/or filter. But it has also been one of the most crucial stages in our learning to help us work with our customers to better understand our coffees and how to get the best out of them on the bar.
There has of course been a lot of wasted coffee throughout this process (both in roasting and brewing) but as we continue to grow, with output now around half a tonne per week, the most important things I feel we should take away from the last year are the relationships we have forged and solidified with the many brilliant customers who have patiently helped us develop our craft.
We have not always got it right, and many of them have been good enough to be honest with us when we have slipped up. However without friends such as Full Court Press, Small St. Espresso, Takk, Exploding Bakery, Look Mum No Hands, No.35 Coffee House & Kitchen and Kaffeine as well our suppliers such as Falcon Specialty, Cafe Imports, Mercanta & many others, our coffees would not be what they are today and we believe they are amongst the finest in the UK right now.
To this end, it is perhaps fitting then that in the week of our roasting anniversary we were delighted to announce a new partnership with the fantastic Friska in Bristol – a small but highly regarded independent business with multiple sites and BIG ambitions.
Founding partner Griff Holland and I got to know each other over the past six months and we shared an equal passion for our respective businesses. Griff believed in our ambition as a specialty roaster, in our commitment to quality and in our dedication to service, so much so that he made a huge personal and professional decision to agree to work with us to collectively help grow Friska into a national business that will redefine expectations within the hospitality sector.
Working with partners like this makes me very proud of what we have achieved.
We feel incredibly grateful for the support we continue to receive from our customers and we are thrilled to be amongst an amazingly vibrant coffee industry here in the south west full of passionate roasters, cafe owners and baristas.
I look forward to roasting you all some incredibly coffees in our second year!
Andrew Tucker – Head of Coffee