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Lucy Deedes from our Petworth shop has been on her travels again, this time visiting Dalston Lane in east London and the home of All Press our coffee suppliers….
Ah, the thrill and romance of travelling to the East in search of coffee. Shoreditch! Haggerston! Rotherhythe! The English headquarters of the New Zealand firm Allpress, whose coffee we use in the shops and cafes, is in Dalston Lane. Next to a row of tired but lovely Georgian houses the clean outlines of the Allpress Roastery, built from a converted timber factory, solar-panelled and very largely made of glass, seems entirely at home and fits in as though it has always been there.
It’s a tall, airy building, essentially one open plan space. The café – quiet, calm, wooden tables, plenty of laptops – is downstairs and through a glass wall, spanning two storeys, is the roastery, where four big silos hold green beans from the four countries, Brazil, Columbia, Guatamala and Sumatra, whose coffee makes up the Redchurch blend which accounts for 90% of the coffee Allpress produces. Tom Hobday shows me round: he came to the company as a barrista, got involved with the technicalities of the LaMarzocco coffee machine (the Ferrari of its kind, made just outside Florence, and the only ones they use and lease to their customers) and is now Head of Training. He tells me how Allpress strive to be an asset to all the communities with whom they come into contact; whether it’s supporting their coffee-farmers or their neighbours and local businesses in Dalston. Around us are piles of dusty coffee sacks on the floor, exotically imbued in my mind with all the flavour of the East India company, Docklands, the spice trade – these sacks are sold for £1 and the proceeds given to the local school.
The roasting machine was designed by Michael Allpress, the founder and co-owner of the company, and it deals with the problem of coffee beans scorching in the hot drums before they were totally roasted through, which made the coffee bitter. Here, the beans are tossed in a stream of hot air like a tumble dryer, so that the residue of husk from the beans is whirled away and cannot burn and create bitter smoke. And so the clean, smooth and complex blend of coffee we know was created.
The beans in their green, unroasted state have a stable moisture content and can be stored for up to a year. But once roasted and bagged, the beans must ‘rest’ for two days before they are delivered and I learn that when we take in our delivery at the shop we should rest it for a further three days before using it: the window for using freshly roasted beans is from day six to day 14, after which the oils will begin to dissipate and the beans dry out.
Upstairs we look at little dishes of green coffee beans, comparing some uneven gnarly ones with the specialty evenly-graded Arabica beans which they use at Allpress. Arabica is grown at high altitudes and has less caffeine and more flavour than Robusta (grown in such places as China and Vietnam). And who knew that coffee beans came from little red cherries? I’m ashamed to say I thought they came from some sort of pod.
Nearby one man is teaching a small group how to make the perfect cup of coffee and, just as importantly, how to keep the machine in tiptop condition; another is testing batches of beans in a baby-sized roasting machine, smelling and tasting, recording times, and listening (yes! Coffee speaks) for the ‘first crack’. All vital information which helps with the constant tweaking of the blends.
Tom – beard, beanie, tools in a backpack – is about to hop on the company Vespa and cross London to do a repair on a coffee machine. Of course he is, this is Dalston! He is a superb advocate for Allpress, brimful with enthusiasm for the holistic and thoughtful people-based nature of their business. ‘Customers tell us they’ve been to the new Allpress in Tokyo’, he says, ‘And they go, “The people there are great.” Not the coffee, but the people! I love that.’
Lucy Deedes has written for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, Saga magazine, Country & Townhouse magazine, had regular columns in the Scottish Field and Country Illustrated magazine.
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