Coffee is a ubiquitous product in the modern world. Every town and city in England has scores of coffee shops, while our supermarket shelves are packed with varieties and styles of coffee from all over the world, showing the remarkable inventiveness of the human mind when it comes to producing food from the most humble of origins.
But for most of the history of these islands, coffee was an unknown food. It was, after all, the product of a tropical plant grown in lands that were thousands of miles away. Like chocolate, tea, sugar and spices, it was known only to the handful of individuals who were able to venture to distant lands.
That all began to change in the 17th century. That was the era when Europeans first began to discover coffee in significant numbers. The early history of coffee in Europe was a controversial one. At the time, all coffee was imported from Arabia, which proved to be a problem particularly in Italy, where some religious figures said that Christians should not drink it. That soon changed however when the pope tried a cup, and gave it his personal approval.
In England, the coffee house became an increasingly common feature in every city, a place where the wealthy and ambitious could meet and debate, argue, strike deals and even gamble. But as coffee became more widely available, it was taken up keenly by the rest of the population, and the development of instant coffee made it a convenient beverage accessible to all.
Of course, instant coffee is often a pale imitation of the real thing. While other countries in Europe, most notably the Italians and Austrians, developed the fine arts of coffee making, English people had to make do with the mass-produced brown grit in jars served up by major food manufacturers. But by the start of the millennium, that had begun to change, thanks to the arrival of major coffee shop brands such as Starbucks and Costa, which introduced the English to the cappuccino, the latte and the art of the barista, reacquainting us with our historic love of the bean.
This has led to an increasing interest in the coffee-making process. No longer content with jars of the instant stuff, English coffee drinkers have increasingly been turning to making their own brew. The arrival of coffee machines that work with discs or pods was a step in that process, but the ultimate coffee experience involves preparing your own coffee from home, starting from the original bean. This booming business has led to a new and thriving coffee roasting scene with a number of companies serving the increasing demand for roasted beans. Here are five of the best.
Neighbourhood Coffee Roaster
From their Liverpool base, Neighbourhood Coffee Roasters have become one of the leading choices for artisanal specialty coffee for discerning English customers. Their beans are sourced from South America and Africa, and they are available in whole form or ground, according to your preference. They travel to the areas from where they source their beans and speak to those involved in the coffee producing process, as well as ensuring that all beans are ethically sourced.
They roast their beans in small batches, which is the best way of ensuring that the quality of the beans and their individual characteristics are preserved in the finished product.
One of the leading coffee bean roasters in England, Origin Coffee source their beans from a wide variety of nations, including Nicaragua, Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador. They work with professional roasting machines which operate in a carefully controlled atmosphere, and they carefully analyse the form, colour and small of the beans, with each roast taking several days until the desired flavour is achieved and the final product deemed good enough to sell.
North Star Coffee Roasters
Situated in Leeds, North Star Coffee Roasters was founded in 2013 and has established itself as one of the country’s top coffee roasting operations. Their extensive organisation, which sources beans from around the world, also extends to a series of courses for baristas, teaching the art of coffee to new generations. North Star’s preference is for specialty grade Arabica coffee beans, but considerable attention to detail goes into choosing the perfect beans, with flavour profile, consistency and cleanliness all important considerations. Like all the best coffee roasting operators, North Star take the trouble to travel to the areas they are importing from. Their coffee beans are purchased while green and fresh and are roasted in small batches, ensuring each variety retains its characteristics.
Caravan Coffee Roasters
Based in London, Caravan Coffee Roaster are widely regarded in the world of artisan specialty coffee. They take care to select green coffee beans of the very best quality, in a way that is both environmentally friendly and sustainable. The roasting process they use is careful and designed to bring out of the inherent flavours of their beans, an aim that is supported through the use of modern roasting technology. In keeping with their commitment to diversity and supporting local farmers, one of their most popular coffee brands is from a Colombian all-woman coffee-growing co-operative.
Clifton Coffee Roasters
Situated in Bristol, Clifton Coffee Roasters have become the go-to experts for artisanal speciality coffee beans. Their beans are sourced from a variety of locations, including El Salvador, Colombia, Panama, Brazil and Kenya, through sustainable methods.
The company had a very different beginning, as a seller of espresso machines, but it has since become one of the most reputed coffee roasting operations in England. Their in-house production roastery and their experience of the wider coffee trade enables them to handle every aspect of the process from sourcing to roasting and supply.