Choosing a coffee supplier for the shop was going to be a big deal for me. I love my coffee and I really wanted to find a unique company to work with to bring my future customers some amazing espresso drinks. So when I heard of the Natural Coffee Company, based in Hemel Hempstead, who import and roast organic and fairtrade coffees, I was intrigued and hopped on a train to go and visit them. First things first, I sit down to try a few different espresso blends made by Mark in their tasting kitchen.
The Natural Coffee Company grew out of Smiths Coffee, an independent company that has been importing and roasting coffee beans for over 60 years. They specialise in single origin coffees (not only by country, but by specific regions within the country) and want to teach people to appreciate the complexity of flavours in coffee rather than treating it as a standardised drink. When they created their range of 100% organic and fairtrade coffees, they registered to the standards of the Fairtrade Foundation, Rainforest Alliance and Soil Association.
Their MD Colin Smith travels frequently to coffee-producing regions and has a considerable amount of pictures and coffee paraphernalia to show for it. One of their rooms is like a mini coffee museum with various tools, grinders, vintage coffee signs and cultural artifacts: there is a clear passion behind the company.
Mark then shows me around the roasting and packing plant. The aromas wafting in the air are heady and delicious. The green coffee beans arrive in large hessian sacks, stamped with their country of origin. All the roasting takes place in small batches, with a dedicated roaster for the organic beans. Because it’s not produced on a massive scale, the coffee is that much fresher when it reaches coffee shops and outlets – they only roast and pack what they need to fulfil orders.
Small batches also ensure that each type of coffee is appropriately roasted to bring out its unique flavours. Some of the rare estate coffees are only lightly roasted to maintain the original flavour of the beans. Espresso blends, on the other hand, need to balance the darker roast, which removes bitterness and acidity, with the natural sweetness and aroma of the beans. Many large coffee chains tend to over-roast their beans and then overcompensate for the burnt taste by making flavoured and overly milky beverages.
At the Natural Coffee Company, the coffee is as it should be, and to be sure, they offer a full bean-to-cup service – from the expertly blended coffee beans to the right espresso machines and barista training, which I’ll be back for in due time! Now I just need to decide which blend to use in the shop…