It's a familiar narrative in some ways: London as the ten-ton gorilla, dominating the coffee conversation across the United Kingdom, looming over the operational consciousness of every operator, big and small, from Glasgow to Belfast to Bath. Except it's not really like that, is it? There was great coffee being roasted in Glasgow before London's scene really had its game together; across the pond, North American cities like Calgary, Portland, Kansas City and Durham had cutting-edge coffee purveyors well before Third Wave spread to Los Angeles and New York. Coffee isn't like food, or art, or music or theater; you don't have to be in the major cities for anyone to think you've made it. Pardon our French, but sometimes familiar narratives are a bunch of bullshit.
So here comes Origin Coffee from Cornwall, one of the United Kingdom's best specialty coffee roasters, home to a perennial UK Barista Competition top competitor and a sourcing program that's second to none. Origin does delicious coffees, and our repeat exposure to their brand covering the UKBC events over the last few years has made us into fans. (Bags of Origin Coffee beans smuggled home from these events further helped cement this opinion.) A few short weeks ago, they opened a major new flagship cafe right in the belly of the beast: Shoreditch, London's hippest hub, home to dozens of cafes and boutiques and uh, cereal bars and men's grooming salons, etc.
Origin goes in guns blazing, with a 1,200-sq-foot cafe stocked with top-of-the-line equipment, focused around “a theatre to showcase the art and science of the pour-over.” It all begs a series of questions: What if the provincial lot, the outside guys and gals, come and take London by storm by opening one of the city's best new cafes? What if, instead of living and working in awe of the big city, these outsider kinds of coffee brands are able to meet it head on?
What if it doesn't matter where your from, and only matters what you do? Now there's a compelling story arc.
As told to Sprudge by Grace Reith.
For those who aren't familiar, will you tell us about your company?
We’re a coffee roaster based in Cornwall, in South West England. We’ve been roasting for about ten years and are proud to work with some of the UK’s leading baristas–Dan Fellows, our Head of Wholesale came 4th in the UKBC earlier this year. We’re lucky enough to source a lot of our green coffee directly, so secure some incredible small lots; our Coffee Development Manager, Canada’s Barista Champion #2 Joshua Tarlo, is due to set off for Colombia next month.
As well as working with some stellar independent coffee shops, restaurants and hotels across the UK, we have a coffee shop in Porthleven, Cornwall. This space in Shoreditch is the first shop of our own in London.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
It’s an 1,000-sq-ft space in Shoreditch, East London. The ground floor is a coffee shop showcasing our single-origin coffees and downstairs is for education and technical services.
Given the location of Shoreditch and it being our first brick-and-mortar in London, we were keen not to be a carbon copy of the other shops around. Without sounding totally pompous, it needed to feel like it was true to our brand as a roasters. It certainly feels quite a different space to us. Well, as different as it can be with a bar, wood and tiles . . . we need to retain some sense of reality here!
We also wanted to create a coffee shop that heroed a brew bar, a theatre to showcase the art and science of the pour-over. An opportunity for our baristas to engage and chat about our single-origin coffees and sourcing trips. The brew bar—visible from the street—has totally delivered on that. The backdrop is an illustrated wall by Cornish artist, John Kilburn Dunbar. John hand painted a series of characters which will be featuring on our new coffee bags, due out in September. The concrete bar top has a series of three black Acaia Pearl scales inset into it, located to mirror the customer's brew bar stools and further heighten their personal brewing experience.
Downstairs you’re greeted with a wall of framed artwork from previous guest coffee bags. The space then splits into an education centre and technical services, with SCAE-certified trainers and a La Marzocco trained engineer. The new partition wall with a solid sliding barn door and window panelling—created for purpose—is actually one of our favourite features of the design.
What's your approach to coffee?
We’re fortunate that, being a roaster, we’re able to source exclusive lots for Charlotte Road and keep our single-origin coffees frequently rotating. To let our customers experience amazing coffees from different countries, different processes and different brew method . . . that’s what it’s all about for us really. So, with this comes service style. Yes, the coffee needs to be incredible but our baristas have to be knowledgeable, approachable and the clichéd ‘p’ word, passionate. Yes, it makes us cringe to say it, but it’s important.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We work really closely with La Marzocco, so it was a no-brainer that we’d have a Strada in pride-of-place on the espresso bar. It’s positioned so it’s visible from outside. It’s a custom Strada EP with wood inlay and is beautiful. Alongside this are two Mythos One grinders and a Mahlkönig EK43 grinder for the brew bar, plus Bunn batch brewer.
Downstairs for training, we’ve two two-group La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machines, each with two Mythos One grinders each, plus another EK43.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you'd like to mention?
Anna Hart Design—Interior designer.
Finest Joinery—Carpentry with the most incredible attention to detail. And there’s been a lot of it, with stair and balustrade cladding, bars, tables, window frames, mirror frames…
Set Workshop–Our stunning concrete worktop.
John Dunbar Kilburn—The aforementioned illustrator who hand painted the masterpiece behind the brew bar.
There’s also been an amazing contracts manager, Grant. Possibly the nicest electrician in the world, Berris. Ashley, the plumber. Lorenzo and Silvio on tiling, plastering, etc.
Yes, we have become Gwyneth Paltrow. Thanks to our Mums too.
All photos by Jon Attenborough for Origin Coffee, used by permission.