Monday 8 May 2017

Curated Brew - An interview

I caught up with Ian Kissick, founder of Curated Brew, to find out what’s unique about his specialty coffee subscription service.

The number of small batch coffee roasters has been on the dramatic increase over the last few years (mixed in with older traditional roasters reinventing themselves) and new coffee subscription services have also been popping up regularly.

I was intrigued by the name - and the concept of ‘machine learning’ - so had a good long chat with Ian.

What's the deal?

Ian started Curated Brew, leaving a corporate IT role behind, at the end of 2016. Despite only taking up coffee in 2012, Ian’s making up for lost time and has definitely joined the ranks of the obsessed. He wanted combine his background in technology (coding) with his new-found love of specialty coffee.

He’s particularly drawn to juicy, bright, interesting flavours at the upper end of the specialty coffee market – and variety. The problem is shipping costs - which quickly make sourcing these coffees from all over Europe un-affordable, even for the seriously dedicated.

So, in a nutshell, Ian does a wholesale deal with a single, carefully selected roaster each month, and ships you delightful coffee that would otherwise cost nearly twice as much if you ordered a bag directly from the roaster due to shipping costs.

You’ll get a tip top bag of beans delivered to your address for a maximum price of around £12 a 250g bag (slightly less if you buy more than one bag) and some helpful accompanying notes about the coffee to read while you sip.

To get your taste buds yearning and as an indicator of quality, last month’s roaster was Norway’s Talor and Jorgen, and May’s is Sweden’s Koppi. Yup.

So what’s the deal with ‘machine learning’?

Ian is creating a database, based on customer ratings of the sensory aspects of the coffee they’ve tried. He’ll feed that into a machine learning model based on thousands (and 10s of thousands) o customers’ feedback to understand the underlying factors that people are enjoying.

In 2 years, Ian’s planning to offer 2-3 roasters over 10 origins, with different characteristics, and he’ll know the likelihood of who will like which coffees and recommend them accordingly - based on previous feedback.

He’s also aiming to tie in with a university to research how peoples’ coffee palette changes over time, to offset unintentionally getting stuck in a flavour profile rut slash vortex ongoing.

How do you choose the roasters you feature?

When Ian set out in January 2017, he looked at all the speciality roasters in UK and Europe that he was interested in and emailed them. He asked for samples, cupped them and made a list of 10 he wanted to work with immediately. Some were start-ups others were more established companies. Going forward Ian will ask for samples from roasters and then cup and choose them together – as well as bringing others in to help choose as well.

Ian said “I like trying different coffees. It’s a comfort and a pleasure, but it’s also intriguing whenever you try a coffee with a different sensory profile. The people who are signing up so far are generally looking for something different. Because of the price point, we’ll rarely feature highly expensive coffees, but we’ll always feature interesting coffees at high quality - generally a light roast.”

Ian’s trying to meet with as many roasters as possible to taste their coffees with them. He wants to get their take on the coffees they have on offer, chat them through and make decisions together about what suits his customers.

We were lucky enough to try the Talor & Jorgen, fully washed Rwandan Musasa (pictured in super lovely artwork) and will be back to try another soon - alongside supporting our local roasters heartily of course (in fact I passed a few names of our fine Scottish roasters to Ian for consideration!).

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