Assembly Coffee is a small batch, specialty coffee roaster and a sister brand to Volcano Coffee Works, based in London. The company started roasting 18 months ago after officially launching the business at the London Coffee Festival 2015. Earlier this November, they established a new home in Brixton, south London, and celebrated with a big party for the London coffee industry.
A few days before the opening I went to Brixton for a tour of the site and a chat with Michael Cleland, responsible for marketing and development, and Nick Mabey, head of quality and certified Q grader. Sitting around a rotating cupping table in Assembly's sensory lab we discussed how Assembly was born and what goals they set up to achieve.
The main goal for any roaster is to consistently offer great coffee that is aligned with the needs and tastes of the industry. “There are no compromises on coffee at Assembly: this is the core of our work at the roastery,” says Mabey. “Our coffee has to be as good as anybody else's.”
Director of coffee Joe McElhinney and roaster Katelyn Thompson roast over 500 kilograms of coffee weekly on Giesen machines (including a brand new Giesen WPG1). Assembly currently ships coffee to 75 cafes across the UK, Europe, and rest of the world. Outside London, a few of the cafes they work with include in the Ten Belles in Paris, Lowdown Coffee in Edinburgh, and Bloom Specialty Coffee in Bucharest. Their coffee has been served as far away as Taiwan's All Day Roasting Company, and upcoming plans call for collaborations with the likes of Flight Coffee (Wellington), Proud Mary (Melbourne), and Grace & Taylor (Sydney).
The new roastery is huge, housed in a former 19th century fire station. At the front there are two small rooms dedicated to public events, coffee research, product development, and quality control. Future plans include hosting open cupping selections once a month, barista trainings, events, and exhibitions. The middle room is where the roasting takes place, while the back area is used for packaging, dispatching, and administrative work.
One of the reasons behind Assembly’s move to Brixton was to create a welcoming and accessible space in a central location, easy to reach and open to all their wholesale customers. “Assembly is driven by progression and community,” explains Cleland. “Our philosophy is to change our customers’ perception on coffee. We want to move coffee forward,” says Cleland.
The new roastery is an open door to the coffee industry; a space where roasters and buyers can develop a relationship that goes beyond the sale transaction.
“A roastery and a cafe have the same objectives and the ultimate goal is to have more customers go into independent cafes. They also have the same obstacles,” Cleland explains. Part of his job is to analyze how independent cafes work, understand their needs, identify problems straight away, and help cafe owners find the solutions. He also runs reports and collects insider information that is shared with the wholesale customers directly or via the Assembly blog.
Being able to offer advice and support to independent cafes is at the core of Assembly’s work and what they hope, with time, will set them apart from the competition—and this being London, there's no shortage of it.