Argyll Coffee Roasters: Speciality Spotlight
I think I'll introduce this one by declaring my complete lack of knowledge about coffee. I don't drink it, I don't like it...I find it bitter and a bit smelly, if I'm honest! However, clearly I had much to learn. I found out about the Argyll Coffee Roasters via Twitter when browsing #argyllhour one Wednesday evening - before I knew it, I had an invite to visit their roastery in Tighnabruaich so that they could show me the process behind their beans. I had to fess up then to being a coffee novice but promised to bring along my coffee fiend of a husband. Coffee lover or no, I was still very keen to learn about the processes behind making coffee, perhaps because my kitchen is littered with coffee paraphernalia and this would at least give me an appreciation for all the stuff!
We drove over to Tighnabruaich yesterday morning (wow, what a drive - you must do it if only for the spectacular view over the Kyles of Bute from the viewpoint at the top of the hill...see evidence below) and arrived rather early at the roastery. We had thought we'd take a wee stroll through Tighnabruiach but a fairly hefty shower put paid to that and we sought shelter with Eve and Mark, the team behind Argyll Coffee Roasters.
Eve has lived and worked in Argyll for ten years. After working in marketing and journalism in London and Bristol for years, she decided to up sticks and move to Portavadie in Argyll in search of wild spaces. She has a love of the west coast of Scotland and always holidayed in Portavadie as a child. While working in freelance digital communications, mainly in tourism in Argyll, she hatched a plan for a coffee roasting company to provide great coffee throughout Argyll. Mark also has a background in journalism and communications, as well as a passion for all things coffee!
Eve and Mark are members of the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) and are SCA trained in green coffee, barista, brewing and roasting. They're passionate about provenance and they that their green coffee beans are not only of speciality grade, but are also traceable to origin and ethically sourced. Their packaging is either recycled or recyclable and they're also giving consideration on how to reuse or repurpose any waste from their process - from the bags the beans come in, to the chaff that comes off the beans during the roasting process.
The idea for Argyll Coffee Roasters began long before it opened in 2018 and central to their process is their Diedrich ir 12 roaster - it's an absolute beast of a machine and it happens to look gorgeous too! The first step in the coffee roasting process is heating your machine - this takes about 25 minutes and it's very much like heating your oven before you bake your cake. Once the machine is at the appropriate temperature, it's time to start the roast. The beans before they go into the machine are green and smell like fresh, green grass - it's a very leafy smell. The beans are dropped into the funnel at the top and when they are released into the body of the machine, that's when Eve pulls up a stool and things get serious!
I had no idea that coffee roasting was quite as intense as it is! Eve had a chart sheet for this roast and used the roast chart from their previous roast to follow the specific time and heat markers in order to reproduce the desired roast and flavour on our batch of beans. This close attention and tweaking helps with the production of a consistent flavour profile. You can watch the beans turning in the machine through the little window at the front and you'll see them gradually turn from grassy green to a rich, chocolatey brown before your eyes. During the process they start to pop, very much like popcorn!
Another thing that surprised me was how fast the process was. When I think of roasting, I think of joints of meat or trays of veggies slowly caramelising and crisping in the oven and so I expected that the beans might be in for around an hour or more. But no! Within 10-12 minutes you will have your roasty, toasty beans out of the machine and cooling.
The paddle in the middle of the machine turns to spread and move the beans around the vented base, allowing the hot beans to cool quickly and evenly. This is where it would be handy if the internet could transmit smells! When the beans poured out, the smell was of freshly baked bread which surprised me - as in...they didn't smell of coffee, to me at least! At this point in the process, there are more tasks to complete, one of which is weeding out any imperfect beans that have not roasted for various reasons, as well as anything else you don't want in your coffee, such as stones! We tasted the beans at this stage and I was really surprised - it did taste of coffee but it wasn't strong and bitter as I'd expected it to be. *whispers* I actually quite liked it!
It's a precision operation, coffee roasting: it's very intense with as little as ten seconds potentially making or breaking your roast. There's also much to be done by eye too - you can take a little scoop of your beans as they roast and compare to the roast you already have, looking for a colour match. However, much like baking a cake, you don't want to do this too often because each time you do, you let in a little cold air which can alter the temperature in the drum and, ultimately, affect the quality of your roast.
Coffee roasting complete, Eve expertly guided us through the next part of the process - cupping! This is where you find there's a sort of universal language of coffee to describe its flavours, the idea being that you can talk to anyone in the world and they'll understand your flavour profile. The cupping process is precise - coffee, I am learning, is a precision product! - and you begin with your water boiled to 97 degrees celsius. Each sample is then freshly ground into the cups - we had Tanzanian, Kenyan, Brazilian and Ethiopian coffees to taste. The water was carefully poured over and then the cups were left to cool for exactly eight minutes - see? precision! At this point, we then 'cleaned' the cups, carefully taking the film off the top of the coffee with a spoon and this is when you can get your nose right in there and really absorb the different aromas.
Then you're ready to taste! You don't just swig it from the cup - no, you take a spoonful of coffee and sook it up really fast - the noisier the better! I wasn't convinced that I was going to be able to make much of the tasting with my inexperienced palate - I expected that I would just find it all bitter but wow! I could actually discern different flavours! Each was distinctive with the first two being quite light and fresh and fruity. The Brazilian coffee was really rich and dark and chocolatey, and then the Ethiopian was super citrussy and bright. I didn't realise that coffee isn't meant to be bitter and that it could have all these different flavour profiles - the whole experience really surpassed my expectations and I'd like to thank Eve and Mark for taking the time to share their expertise and their beautiful, artisan product with us. We will treasure our Argyll Coffee Roasters mugs and the hubster has already enjoyed a cup of one of the bags he bought.
I suspect there might be more coffee gadgetry and paraphernalia in my life and I really hope to see Argyll Coffee Roasters' coffee appearing in our coffee shops and restaurants throughout Argyll. You can also buy it online - wholesale and retail - and have it delivered direct to your door so pop onto the website to get yours AND one of those fab enamel mugs! The website is argyllcoffee.co.uk - go on, you know you want to!