Based at Benn Avenue in Paisley, Becky Strawser of The Gatehouse Coffee Roasters talks us through their love of the gourmet godsend that is a fixture of so many of our lives and the journey that it undertakes to get there.
Blog by Mill Magazine as part of Paisley Food and Drink Festival 2021.
There’s a mug that sits on my kitchen counter. It’s chipped and stained, but the words hand-painted on the ceramic remain an unofficial mantra for weekday mornings in our house: “I’ll start working when the coffee does”. It’s no secret that I find it difficult to face the demands, decisions and downright chaos of daily life without the gentle clarity that comes with those first few beautiful sips in the morning.
Working in a coffee roastery definitely has its perks. But, is that all that coffee is to us? Our drug of choice to jump-start another day? Our chosen vehicle for another hit of caffeine? Maybe it’s worth taking a moment to consider: What is actually in our cup? How did it get there? And, does it even matter?
Coffee sustains lives, and that has nothing to do with a Monday-morning caffeine boost. Growing, picking and trading coffee beans provides a sole source of income for families and whole communities in many parts of the world.
From family-run small-holdings to multi-acre farms, millions of people rely upon being paid a fair wage to grow, pick, source, import, roast and brew the coffee that we make a beeline for at the start of our work-day.
A single coffee bean passes through so many expert hands before it reaches the cup, each of them belonging to hands of a woman or man trying to feed a family, educate children or simply build a life for themselves. The wages they are paid and the conditions in which they work directly affect the health, education and future of entire communities.
If we’re buying coffee at rock-bottom prices here in Scotland, it’s only because somebody else’s family is paying the price elsewhere in the world.
Let’s normalise being inquisitive about the origin of the coffee we’re drinking. Let’s notice the country of origin, ask the names of the farms and show an interest in their trading practices.
Transparency and traceability are vital if we believe that people are the most important part of the coffee industry.
Arabica and Robusta. You’ve probably seen coffee proudly marketed as “100% Arabica”, but what does that actually mean? There are two commonly-grown types of coffee plant: Arabica and Robusta. Although arabica is more widely grown and traded, robusta coffee is still a highly-traded crop in many parts of the world.
Robusta is – unsurprisingly – a more robust plant and will flourish at lower altitudes and produce a greater yield. On the other hand, arabica coffee is more difficult to tend and carries much higher production costs. Because of this, arabica coffee is significantly more expensive to trade.
Although both plants grow coffee cherries and will be processed and roasted in similar ways, there is a noticeable difference in the appearance and taste of these two types of coffee.
Robusta coffee does not generally display the same variety of taste profiles that can be found in arabica coffee and it tends to deliver a more flat and neutral taste. Because of this, arabica coffee is generally used in specialty coffee, whereas robusta is used in commodity coffee such as large-scale instant-coffee production, or as a filler in some less-expensive blends.
The variety of arabica beans available to taste and explore is vast. Taste preferences are personal, but what we should all agree on is that it’s vital that the beans that we choose to invest in are traceable and ethically sourced.
Coffee is a fruit. Most of us are familiar with the image of a roasted brown coffee bean, and maybe we tend to think of that as the starting point of our coffee.
However, a coffee bean’s journey begins a number of steps before that. Coffee grows as a cherry on a coffee plant, ripening from green into a bright red, orange or yellow fruit. The coffee bean is the seed from within the cherry. Cherries are picked once they are ripe, often by hand, and then laid out to dry.
How the cherry is handled at this point can have a huge impact on the taste of the coffee that you will eventually enjoy in your cup. Some coffees are washed very soon after being picked. The fruit of the cherry is washed away from the seed in specialised washing stations that require a great deal of physical labour and attention to detail. The bare green seeds are then laid out to dry.
This process allows minimal time for the pulp of the coffee fruit to impact the taste profile of the coffee bean, therefore allowing us to appreciate the unique taste of the coffee bean itself.
However, other coffee is processed using the natural method; laying out coffee beans to dry whilst they are still inside the fruit, removing the pulp later after the drying process is complete.
This process allows more flavour from the cherry to impart to the bean and can often result in a coffee with more funky, fruity notes.
You can find fine examples of both washed and natural coffees at speciality roasteries and coffee shops around Scotland. Ask your barista what’s in your cup.
Recipes matter. How many of us have spent lockdown honing our baking skills? Seeing my kids gain confidence in the kitchen has been one of the few silver linings of all that has gone on in this past year. They’ve learnt to read recipes, to weigh ingredients and to follow instructions, taking heed of the fact that you can’t bake a good cake by mixing the remnants of a bag of flour together with the eggs left over from breakfast.
Whether you find them in a book or you know them by heart, recipes are important. Correct measurements can make or break the look and taste of your finished product and it’s the same with coffee. It’s a good sign if you see your barista taking a few extra seconds to grind your coffee after you order, or even weighing out the correct amount of ground coffee to ensure they get the recipe just right.
These details make a huge difference, and you will taste that difference in your cup. If you’re brewing coffee at home, ask your coffee roaster for advice, or do your own experiments to find a recipe that works for you.
For information about the coffee that we roast and sell here in Paisley, browse our website at www.thegatehousecoffeeroasters.com, or reach out to us on social media with any questions.
We’re looking forward to the days when we can welcome the public back into our roastery and share the roasting and tasting experience with more of you.