Friday 23 September 2016

Ian Steel - J. Atkinson & Co

We caught up with Ian Steel (left) from Lancaster-based J Atkinson & Co who'll be speaking, and setting up a stall, at Edinburgh Coffee Festival, Summerhall on 1 October.

Image J Atkinson Coffee

>>  J Atkinson and Co. started business in 1837 and is part of Britain's rich tea and coffee history, how would you describe your coffee to today's customers?  <<

When Thomas Atkinson set up the Grasshopper Tea Warehouse in 1837 there were six other tea merchants in town, an indication of Lancaster's status as a once bustling West-facing port. As  the last survivor of that era we see our role today as a Talisman Business for the city, in these challenging times on the High St., buoyed up as we are by the seemingly insatiable public thirst for good coffee.

All our coffee is the top Speciality grade, most of it exclusive to us, through various schemes & farms that we work with, what you might call relationship coffee. Most of all we try to choose the most delicious coffees we can find that showcase the best of a particular terroir.

So rather than describe our different coffees with baffling Flavour Wheel descriptors we often try to bring them into familiar frames of reference, like the new Costa Rican Finca La Casa which my shorthand tasting notes refer to as being like Caramac & Hot Vimto!

>>  By watching your Facebook and Twitter it looks like music plays a big role in your lives - what's the connection?  <<

Like many who've come into the Coffee World as Career Epihanists, my wife and I had previous careers in the creative industries, as a TV Producer & a Textile Designer, so using our two cafés as creative hubs just seems a natural way to provide a focus for artistic endeavour. Lancaster is blessed with both a Jazz Festival & a Music Festival & we're more than happy to provide the venues, as well as a year round programme of our own events, ably aided and abetted by our wonderful crew of baristas, most of whom seem to have some kind of creative bent.

>>  You're speaking at the Edinburgh Coffee Festival - what's your topic? <<

Small is not only beautiful but can also have an impact all along what we increasingly refer to as the Value Chain. The Independent Coffee Shop is one of the greatest opportunities to see local specialisation tapping into a global product and being able to make a real difference in influencing policies on a wider stage. It will be sprinkled with lots of coffee stories that illustrate practical ways we can use narrative retailing to enhance our offering.

>>  We're passionate about supporting the smaller independent shops and roasters, what three things would you say to the good people of Edinburgh about why it's important to support the little guys?  <<

Number 1 would have to be Localism. We provide local jobs and invest back into the community, not just in keeping the money circulating locally but also as an informal meeting place for all sorts of activities. I'm always staggered looking around our cafés at the wide demographic we attract.

Number 2 is Diversity. The individual character of the Indy Café adds local colour to the High St. It reflects the character of its constituents. We only exist as long as our customers choose to spend their time and money with us! We may not be able to afford the exorbitant rents of the main shopping drag but we can breathe new life into the areas on the periphery.

Number 3 is Sustainability in all its many forms. You'll find local café owners to be much more dedicated stakeholders and stewards of their local environment than the faceless chains. We also tend to espouse greener initiatives and social issues with genuine enthusiasm, even though the Corporate Social Responsibility of the chains is to be applauded.

>>  Why do you think specialty coffee is a growing market and interest in the UK?  <<

The chains have done wonderful work for us as recruiting sergeants introducing people to coffee and it's only natural that consumers want to move up to the next level of quality and service that they can find in their local indy speciality shop.

>>  What's your favourite bean at the moment and why?  <<

Costa Rican Finca La Casa Red Honey Villa Sarchi because it represents something I've been looking for for a while and I think we've found it and I get to use the tasting notes of Caramac & Hot Vimto!

>>  Any tips for home brewing and generally being a specialty coffee enthusiast?  <<

Invest in a good grinder. Stick to manual brewing. Try to ascertain the roasted-on date of the beans and use them from 2 days to 2 weeks after roast.  Use scales. Enjoy yourselves!

Hear more from Ian at the Edinburgh Coffee Festival on 1 October at Summerhall, Edinburgh.

Image J Atkinson & Co.

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