“I’m getting into my Kenyans at the moment. That grapefruit and butter… I really enjoy that in a coffee.”
I’m chatting to production roaster, Tom, from Butterworth & Son in their tasting room not too far from Cambridge in Bury St. Edmunds. His excitement about what he is doing here, under the guidance and training of owner Rob is palpable.
While we are waiting for the kettle to heat up and for Rob to return from running errants in town, Tom tells me how he worked his way up from a part-time “picker packer” to full time production roaster. “I used to work in a coffee shop and got really interested in coffee, but it wasn’t until I started here, tasting different coffees and seeing how Rob roasted, that a whole world opened up for me”.
Name: Rob Butterworth
Been roasting since: Sep 2011
Learnt to roast on a: Dietrich IR5
Now roasting on a: Dietrich IR5
Drink: “Pharmaceutical stimulant” - Google it
Favourite coffee: Peru Tunki
Coffee Party Trick: Dialing in a grinder – Seldom need more than a second dialing
Home brewing secret: Grind it fresh and use filters
Tom runs through the short, but successful history of the roastery with me and proudly tells me they roasted a fair bit for the competition circuit as well. “Alex Sargeant from Stranger’s Cafe in Norwich, Davide Pastorino from Get Coffee in Fleet Street and Howard Barwick, all competed using coffees roasted by us. Howard did really really well and placed 3rd in the UK Barista Championships 2012″.
Rob arrives. He is just too late to enjoy a perfect pour over with Tom and I so he gets to work making himself a cup. Weighing. Grinding. Weighing. Pouring. Waiting. A ritual that each coffee lover understands so well. He settles down for our interview after his second sip and Tom excuses himself to roast the remainder of his orders for the day.
“I grew up in a tea shop, you know”. Rob’s father ran a tea and coffee shop for many years in Bury St. Edmunds, becoming semi famous in the district for blending a special hard water tea since the area has some of the hardest water in the country. Rob worked in the shop since a very young age and recalls being surrounded with the the most sumptuous smells and tastes. After college, he started doing wholesale coffee, but mainly the retail side of it. But, as their customers diversified and started to dabble in making coffee, they naturally turned to Rob for advice on equipment. Through his research into best machinery to suggest to his customers, he fell in love with speciality coffee.
“I bought the roaster in May 2011. It took a good 5 months to get the thing installed so I started roasting in September. It took two months of constant trying and testing to learn how to use it correctly to produce consistently good coffee and at the beginning of winter 2011 we sold our first batch.” We get back to Howard’s great success during the 2012 UKBC competition and you can see Rob is really proud to have been part of that.
I ask what he thought contributed to his early successes as a roaster. “I think we have been fortunate in that we already had an established client base for coffee that we could test our self-roasted coffees on. Navigating the logistics and stock can be really difficult for small roasters as minimum orders, seasonality and batch sizes can quickly make things very complicated and detract from what you should be spending your time on – roasting and tasting. We were fortunate in that we didn’t have to deal with those. Growing up around tea and food also helped of course”.
Rob’s father has retired nine years ago and sold the tea shop. He now and then will do a couple of deliveries, as there is no stress involved and it gets him out of the house a bit. It’s for his business head, however, that Rob appreciates his father’s input the most. “There are some things that he just knows that I would have struggled with”, Rob says, evidently proud of following in his father’s footsteps as someone the people of the area can entrust their tastebuds to.
Do remember to check out Butterworth and Son for yourself.