One of the most exciting additions to the Edinburgh coffee scene this year has been the arrival of Leith-based microroastery Williams & Johnson Coffee Company. The brainchild of experienced baristas Zachary Williams and Todd Johnson, the two took up coffee-roasting residence in a refurbished industrial space in the north of the city. Originally built in 1947 for Crawford’s Biscuits, the building now houses a group of artists, photographers, designers, crafts folk—and a gin distillery—each of whom rent a small part of this dynamic creative hub.
I met up with Williams and Johnson themselves to learn more about their first year in business and their take on Scottish coffee.
Congratulations on the opening! Who’s been an inspiration in you getting here?
Johnson: Market Lane Coffee, in Melbourne. They only offer espresso and filter, no teas, and a very simple food selection to really keep the quality high. Head roaster Toshi [Ishiwata] was just a great person to work for and learn from. It was a really big inspiration for me.
Williams: I think Square Mile Coffee Roasters are a fantastic roastery, they’ve realized perfectly where the market is and are always consistent.
Do you have a particular approach to sourcing and roasting?
Johnson: We believe there’s a happy middle ground in a particular roast, where on espresso it’s vibrant and clean, and on filter it can have body and sweetness as well as acidity. That’s our aim and what we’re dedicated to achieve.
What are you trying to do differently in Edinburgh?
Williams: We feel like we’re trying to be as straightforward and unpretentious as possible towards our customers. When we tell them that we have a rotating single-origin menu based on what’s quality and fresh at the time, they want to taste it and to engage with that process.
Despite the challenges, what keeps you inspired and passionate?
Williams: The control of my own time. I’ve got a young son and the ability to control my time, even when we’re struggling, is my biggest drive.
Johnson: When you’re doing something for yourself and you’re passionate about it, it stops feeling like work!
Now that you are both roasting, do you miss being a barista?
Williams: I really miss it, to be honest. Every time I’ve gone out training recently, pouring milk, talking coffee, I’ve really felt it.
Johnson: I miss that flow you get in a well-organized cafe. In a place where someone’s on shots and someone’s on milk, when it gets busy, it really feels like you’ve earned it.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
Johnson: To keep our focus on offering as high a quality as we possibly can. Sometimes we taste a whole cupping table and say, “this coffee is my favorite, but it’s not ours, so what’s different?” and then we take things from there.
Williams: For me, it’s really about the local thing, trying to supply more places in Edinburgh that are starting up and work with them to make great coffee.
If you could choose one person, dead or alive, to share a filter coffee with, who would if be and why?
Williams: I’m gonna say my eight-year-old son, Dylan. His insight into tasting notes is fascinating, with no preconceptions of what coffee is supposed to taste like. I can’t wait to one day share a brew with him and actually talk about what is going on inside.
Finally, do you have any sage advice for other young coffee geeks thinking of taking the plunge?
Williams: Stay humble and don’t do it with this idea that you know everything. Realize that your consumer is the person that you’re trying to produce coffee for, not yourself.
Johnson: The best coffee people I’ve ever worked for really listen. Your customers might not have the vocabulary, but if you ask them about coffee, the one thing you can trust is whether or not they actually like it. You can always learn from that.
Gavin Smart is a freelance photojournalist based in Edinburgh. This is Gavin Smart’s first feature on Sprudge.