In an autumn coffee news cycle dominated by major brand acquisitions in the United States, something much more subtle—yet no less intriguing—is underway in Stockholm, Sweden. That's home to Drop Coffee, a leading progressive coffee roastery helping push a modern “Scandinavian style” of coffee: light, expressive, and roasted to be delicious as both espresso and filter. Drop's on the starting lineup of Scandinavia's most revered and influential roasters, alongside brands like Koppi (Helsingborg, Sweden), Coffee Collective (Copenhagen), La Cabra (Aarhus, Denmark), Per Nordby (Gothenburg, Sweden), and Tim Wendelboe (Oslo). These roasters are the coffee world's answer to the New Nordic cuisine movement, as expressed by chefs and sommeliers like Rene Redzepi and Mads Kleppe of Noma, home to arguably the world's best restaurant coffee.
We're big Drop Coffee fans, awarding them a Sprudgie Award for Notable Roaster in 2014 and covering their appearance on coffee menus from Amsterdam to Helsinki, Paris to Brooklyn. So you can imagine our surprise when stumbling across this blog post on the Drop Coffee website, posted on November 4th:
Stephen Leighton—of Has Bean Coffee, Tamper Tantrum, and World Barista Championship master of ceremonies fame—is now part-owner in Drop Coffee. Midlands, United Kingdom has met Stockholm, Sweden, in perhaps Europe's least likely pairing since Garbo and Stokowski.
We had to know more—more than just those two sentences in the blog post, at least. So we reached out to Leighton and Joanna Alm, a founder at Drop Coffee, to learn a bit more about the news. Leighton does most of the talking below—those who know him are shocked—but Alm, for her part, expressed excitement for the future at Drop, telling us simply: “We're shooting for the moon!”
How did this all come about? How long has the deal been developing?
Stephen Leighton: It started 6 months back, where Joanna asked me to come do some consulting for Drop. Not something I normally do, but I've always admired the brand and feel a lot of synergy between our roasting philosophies, and I'm a big fan of Sweden so I thought why not. Talking with Erik who was one of the founders, he was looking to chase new challenges in Norway, and the conversation lead to would I be interested in helping develop Drop further. Always looking for new challenges I jumped at the chance, and am enjoying learning more about Nordic coffee culture.
What will this mean for daily operations at Drop? Any changes? Big changes? No changes?
Big changes I guess is Erik, who has been involved since the start, will be moving to new things. Erik's been a force in the development of the brand and the financial back office work. Big shoes to fill. But daily operations will be the same, with Joanna being the CEO and in overall charge day to day. I'll be offering my support and advice and there will be a level of joint decision making but ultimately Joanna remains in charge of direction and development, and so far we have agreed on all the ways forward.
Will Drop be incorporated into the green coffee sourcing work you're doing at Has Bean?
Not at all. Drop has built very successful and long-term relationship with Nordic Approach and this is something we both believe is important to the long-term development of Drop. That's not to say that we won't be able to take advantage of the logistics and relationships Has Bean has, but I don't see any major changes at this time with what we buy. Drop has a name for high-quality, delicious coffees, and that's something we're both proud of.
It's also important to say that this isn't a Has Bean partnership but much more about me, Stephen Leighton, getting involved in a new project, and I think although our roasting and quality philosophy are incredibly close, our buying strategies are quite different, and I'm never going to tell Joanna what she can and can't buy, I'm not that brave (or stupid).
Will this increase UK distribution for Drop via Has Bean?
Not part of the plan, not something we have really thought about—we have more work to do in Sweden and Europe. As I said, this is not a Has Bean project but rather, a Stephen Leighton venture.
Will there be changes made to the roasting style at Drop?
Why would there be? We both hold strong beliefs that roasting for espresso is simply wrong. We both believe that you try to get the very best out of the coffee, and we both believe in very tasty coffee. I think if anything it will cement our styles even more, as we learn from each other. I know already I've gone away from Stockholm experimenting with roast styles. There's been some very lively debates, but we normally end up on the same page.
I've even started looking at Cropster, and those who know me, I've always had strong opinions about that technology. I've even started to see some benefits (although that doesn't mean we're about to install it at Has Bean, by the way). Challenging healthy debate only makes us all get better.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge. Read more from Jordan Michelman.