Our great coffee is thanks to two talented guys, Krag and Ellis. These two are changing the Leeds and surrounding scene fast with their ethically sourced coffee. We went over to their roasters to have a chat about what they do and how they do it.
Tell us a bit about your coffee background
K: I first got into coffee at university. I met my girlfriend there who now works for our importers, Falcon, who are based in Harrogate. She was doing her dissertation on fair-trade and we went out to Kenya and spent some time on the coffee farms out there. I didn’t know anything about coffee before then, I didn’t even drink coffee. I went from not really knowing anything to spending time with farmers talking about how fair-trade has helped them, how coffee was grown and how it tastes. I became hooked from there.
E: Krag approached me when I was working in a coffee shop. I knew Krag’s girlfriend because she got a job in the coffee shop where I was working. She left and began working for Falcon.
K: We buy all our coffee from Falcon because their ethical standpoint is exactly where we want to be.
What drove you to start the first micro roasters in Leeds?
K: The reason it’s in Leeds is because there wasn’t a roastery before us, a lot of cafes were buying their coffee from London, and we wanted to offer something local.
E: Leeds is the third most populated city after London and Birmingham. London has over 60 roasters and Leeds didn’t have any, it was only inevitable that one would pop up soon.
K: I would admit we did kind of throw ourselves into it a little bit, as Ellis said there wasn’t a roasters in Leeds so if we were going to do it we would have to do it quite quickly. We were in at the deep end and learnt a lot of things as we went along. But we had a passion for it, and if you’ve got a passion for anything you can make it work.
E: We used a lot of coffee at the beginning for profiling. Every coffee behaves differently when roasted so there was a lot of trial and error. We are always learning something new about a different region or variety.
K: We’ve been really lucky, it’s been nearly two years and we haven’t had any direct competition in Leeds, I think in the new few years there will be more roasters emerging.
E: But there is plenty of space for it though, competition only drives standards.
How do you see coffee culture in Leeds and how much demand is there for artisan coffee?
E: I think over the past couple of years it has definitely improved. You have the likes of Opposite, Laynes and La Bottega who have been around for a long time now but there are more and more speciality-focused coffee shops opening all the time.
K: The thing is Leeds is quite a compact city so although it is quite big it is quite compact, there are three or four top specialty coffee shops. If you compare Leeds to London it’s ridiculous.
E: There is a different coffee shop on every street in London aiming at the high end, and there is the demand for it. You look at how many people walk around Leeds city centre, there are so many people you could have access to but the knowledge here is so much lower for the general public so people aren’t aware of speciality coffee. It’s about trying to make people aware, and the more coffee shops and roasters pop up, the more it’ll happen. It’s just something that will take a lot longer.
K: In the past two years it has changed massively and in the next few years it’ll change even more, we’re just really behind London.
E: The thing is, the quality coffee shops that we’ve got in Leeds could go to London and do really well because they are just as good, but there are not enough of them. And there’s not enough of the inbetween ones either.
K: That is why we like getting people down here because it is a bit of an education; it makes people aware of what goes into specialty coffee. A lot of coffee shops will say that they serve artisan speciality coffee, but it is quite hard to define what that actually means. For a coffee to be speciality it has to be recognised by the industry to have scored at least 84 out of 100. This scoring system based on the coffee’s attributes such as acidity, body, balance, uniformity and sweetness.
E: But then if we roast it badly, it’s not speciality. Everyone has be playing their part for the coffee to be speciality, everyone is just as important in the supply chain and it’s down to literally the last 30 seconds where it can go wrong. I saw someone put on Instagram saying, “where it all begins” and it was a picture of the start of the espresso – really where it all begins is 2000 hours before that, when the coffee is growing.
K: It is actually amazing how many things have to be right for a nice cup of coffee, and it is just explaining that to people.
Do you think there is a growing trend of people choosing independents over chains?
Both: Yeah definitely.
K: You see that it’s happening not just with coffee but with food as well. I think people are seeking out independents.
E: Yeah, people are caring more about sustainability and supporting smaller businesses.
K: When people buy coffee from us it can partly be because they want to be supporting other independents, a sort of community. I think it’s growing massively in Leeds and Harrogate.
K: A lot of these places could buy coffee cheaper that maybe hasn’t been ethically sourced, but people care about that and it is important to businesses.
Can you give an insight into the flavours and regions of the Baltzersen’s blend?
E: Well, first there are different processes for the coffees in there. So the Brazilian is natural, the Rwandan is washed and the Sumatran is semi washed. The Brazil natural is a naturally processed coffee so when the cherries are ripe they are sorted and left to dry on raised beds until they dry out and goes hard, the sugar then ferments and gives a lower acidity. It provides a good base to any espresso. The Rwanda adds the jammy notes, but the way we roast brings out a really dark chocolate note. But it is predominantly damson, jammy notes. You wouldn’t necessarily pick up all these flavours, but the experts from Falcon go through vigorous taste testing and are qualified to recognise these flavours as official tasting notes. The Sumatra adds another level of complexity; its heavy body cuts through the milk. That’s why we have such a high percentage of Sumatra, for majority of milk drinks you serve.
What are your favourite regions for coffee in the world?
K: Kenya every time.
E: Sometimes I prefer something from Central or South America, they can work better with milk because you can get more nutty and chocolatey notes in there.
K: If I was drinking something like a flat white I would probably go with a Rwanda, something with lots of stone fruit flavours. That works really well with milk.
Are there any countries or regions you can recommend for trying that may be new to us?
K: Papu New Guinea.
E: Uganda, I have had some nice Burundi’s too.
K: What you’ll find more and more are people looking for exclusivities on coffee so they’ll try and do only two or three bags so they have something more unique to offer.
Describe your day in five words
K: Educated, satisfied, accomplished, eager, impassioned.
E: Everyday is a school day.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into roasting?
E: Patience is key. You can only learn about the processes really while doing it. If you work with the right people the product should follow, if you have the passion to achieve it.
K: Enjoy it!
So what’s next for you?
E: I’m actually leaving to go travelling so for the time being the future of North Star is in Krag’s trusty hands.
K: Yep, all over to me now! Hopefully once we have a new roaster we will just being able to carrying on supplying good coffee to more local businesses.