PRODUCE : COFFEE
DISTANCE TO TABLE : 0.77 KM
I used to think making good coffee was buying ground coffee rather than instant. Moving to Canada, I found myself in a country where everyone ground their own beans, had preferred local roasters and blends, and used a stove top expresso maker or fancy machine. The problems with good coffee is that once you’ve experienced it, it’s really hard to go back…
High on my list when I got home was finding some good locally roasted coffee. Fortunately the specialty coffee movement over here is starting to catch up with North America, and I returned to an increasing selection. Just across the motorway from where I live is Extract Coffee, so I arranged a visit to learn more about the art of roasting.
The smell that greets me as I walk through the door of the Extract Coffee warehouse is, frankly, delicious. A friendly face greets me, and offers me a cup of coffee. Offering advice as to the profile of the coffee, a flat white is suggested, and minutes later, a beautiful cup of coffee is placed in front of me. Tim joins me in the training room and begins to tell me the history of Extract.
“Extract Coffee arrived at a time when specialty coffee was really taking off in the UK,” Tim explains. “When they hit the scene in 2007 there was a handful of specialty roasters around the country; you could probably count them on two hands. Now you’re looking at 150-200 roasters. They hit that wave at a great time!” After getting together enough money to buy their first roaster (called James, still in operation today), they initially aimed to set up a cafe/micro-roastery. However, they realised there was a huge demand for the coffee they were roasting, and decided to purely focus on that.
I ask Tim about the beans and different types of coffee. He pauses for a moment. “How geeky do you want to get here? We can get quite geeky…” he points out. I assure him that I’m fine with geeky. “There’s two main types of coffee; Arabica and Robusta, and they grow in different environments. Robusta can grow at a lower altitude and has better protection over insects. If you were a specialty buyer, you’d say that comes at a cost in terms of flavour and taste.” He goes on to explain that Vietnam is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world, but it’s all Robusta, mostly bought by big companies and turned into instant coffee. “Arabica grows at higher altitudes, and has different growing environments,” he continues. “The caffeine levels in coffee often vary depending on altitude because caffeine is effectively a natural insecticide.” This last point causes a ‘wooooah’ from me and a grin from Tim. “Every day is a school day!” he jokes.
We go on a little trip around the world. “Generally speaking, if you go to the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, the area between is known as the coffee belt,” he explains. “You start with Central and Southern America; Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua. Working your way across you’ve got Africa; Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda. Then over to Asia Pacific; Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, some in India, Vietnam. Each of these three growing regions has their own characteristics and flavour profiles.” I ask where Extract get their coffee from. “Some of our main blends involve Brazilian and Columbian coffees,” he tells me. “You’ll find that the African and Asia Pacific regions are often the single origin coffees that we sell. It’s very much a seasonal product, and we have coffees that when we run out, we can’t buy any more because there’s no more growing.”
They currently get all their coffee through brokers. “We’re not big enough to do direct trade,” Tim points out. “But ultimately that’s the best place to be; you’re cutting out a lot of the middle men and you can have direct contact with the person you’re buying from. In the coffee industry there’s so many points of contact between the farmer growing it and reaching your cup; often 15-20 different points. That’s a lot of people taking a slice of the pie.”
We talk about the different stages of processing, and Tim explains the difference between washed coffee and natural coffee. “With washed coffee, you pick the cherry and soak it in water to ferment. There are lots of layers to a coffee seed, and that’s then washed off. The benefits to a washed coffee is that you can have much better control over keeping it quite a balanced flavour, and that’s often favourable in terms of most coffee shop environments. With the natural stuff, it’s left in the cherry and it ferments in the seed, so the flavours you get are much crazier. If you’re an adventurous coffee drinker, go for natural coffees.”
We talk about the roasting process, from the beans arriving to the coffee leaving for sale. “Before we commit to buying a sack of coffee, we ask for a sample,” Tim tells me. He shows me ‘The Prof’, the custom machine they built to roast these samples. “If you want to buy a sample roaster, it’s thousands of pounds,” he points out. “If you don’t have that kind of money, you have to innovate. We took a hot air gun from B&Q, theres old parts from a motor… for me, this sums up Extract as a character. We innovate everything.” Once the sample coffee is roasted, they do what’s called a cupping, where they taste the coffees and decide whether they want to buy it. “Because once you commit to it, you’ve got to sell at least 60kg of it!”
Next comes profiling. “It’s kind of like a recipe,” he explains. “If you leave the coffee in the roaster for too long, it’ll come out bitter. We’re looking for that sweet spot where the coffee is tasting exactly as we want it to in the cup. It’s all to do with temperature and time; how long you keep it in the drum and at what temperature.” He introduces me to one of the roasters, Ashley, who heads up the single origins coffee and is one of the people responsible for profiling. She’s busy roasting some beans in James, their first roaster who was hand restored by David, one of the directors. Next we go to see Betty, “Our workhorse!” Tim exclaims. “She’s from 1955 and we found her in an old shed in South Wales, completely disassembled, and we brought her back to life. She's our production roaster; all the things you taste in cafes, all the Extract original are done in Betty.” Sadly Betty isn’t running the day of my visit; instead lying in pieces across the floor for maintenance.
We continue our tour. “We’ve never bought a roaster new,” Tim points out. “Everything has been reassembled and put back together.” Our last roaster stop is Bertha, “Our new pride and joy. We’ve been restoring her for several years, and she fired up for the first time last month.” With a capacity of 120kg, she’s a beautiful beast. I ask about the details of the roasting process. “We preheat the drum, then drop the coffee in. This drops the temperature right down, and the process of roasting is taking the next 14-16 minutes to bring the drum back up to temperature. At that point you’ve got an endothermic reaction, meaning the beans are absorbing that heat. And then just like popcorn you reach a point at which no more heat energy can be stored in the bean, so the bean splits and cracks. That’s called first crack. It changes the reaction so you now have an exothermic reaction where the coffee beans are now giving out heat. So you now have 120kg of coffee giving out heat. And that point is the real skill of the roaster; you have to be very careful that you’re getting the coffee out when you want it and not overcooking it.”
The tour then takes us to the packing area. “We produce 12,000 kg of coffee a month, individually packed by hand,” Tim tells me. “And instead of buying a £1000 packing machine, we took an old school science compression unit and made this frankenstein thing. I mean, for a sealing machine all you need is a lot of heat and a bit of pressure.” Looking around the warehouse, this commitment to reuse is evident; a training room wall built from an old greengrocery, a bench from church beams…
They sell coffee across the country, but their biggest market is in the South West. “For the consumer, committing to your local community is often just as important as the product itself.” We also chat about one of the more unusual aspects of their operation, training. "If people commit to using our coffee, we ask them to come in for training. The idea's very simple; if you go to a cafe and have a coffee and the coffee's bad, you're going to say 'that was bad coffee'. Because we're not in control of our product at the end stage, we want to make sure that the quality of the thing produced is really high."
Before I leave we discuss their collaborations, three beer collaborations with Wiper and True, one with the Bristol Beer Factory, events with the Big O Donut company. We talk about their coffee raves, a concept brought to them by the New Dawn Traders (think an alcohol and drug free rave at 7am, fuelled only by coffee). “The whole floor round here was just filled with people doing afrobeat dancing!” Tim says, with a big smile on his face. “This year is about going a little bit wider outside coffee, and supporting other people in whatever they’re doing. We make it a really strong point in our character to be from Bristol. We love the community, we love the city!”
The tour over, and my brain bulging with coffee information, Tim hands me a bag of coffee. “I think you’ll like this one,” he tells me as I head back out into the grey Friday morning with a big smile on my face and lovely smells following me as I go.
Find out more: http://extractcoffee.co.uk