Heeding the advice of the weatherman, I made the journey to Bristol by train. After some fumblings with very cold hands to get his number dialed on a phone flickering with water damage, I manage to meet Andy in the station’s car park. Between his 90′s Golf GTI and the prospect of drinking copius amounts of coffee,the spirit is well and truly lifted. (I’m no Jeremy Clarkson, but there are few cars that define my generation as well as this one – I don’t think I need to explain the coffee).
Name: Andy Tucker
Been roasting since: For the business since June 2013, experimenting personally since 2012
Learnt to roast on a: Probat
Now roasting on a: Diedrich
I drink: Natural wines, Red Burgundy and love the great variety of micro breweries opening across the UK – currently working my way through Wiper and True’s collection
Favourite coffee: Ethiopia – Guji Shakiso
Coffee Party Trick: Well, it helps if you have an industrial coffee machine at home
My home brewing secret: Filtered water
Driving through Bristol’s afternoon traffic and chatting away, it soon becomes apparent that Andy is very switched on to what’s going on in the UK coffee scene. You can sense he’s excited about Clifton’s venture into speciality roasting and judging by the phone conversation with one of his local clients, he is pretty serious about the level of service they provide.
Clifton Coffee built their brand since 2001 through the distribution of contract roasted coffee, backed by very solid servicing and training to their customers. As the market started to shift more in the favour of speciality coffee, they decided to bring Andy on board to help with the speciality side of things.
“We really have a unique way of servicing and training our customers. We have 7 vans on the road doing our deliveries but each driver is a trained barista, engineer and trainer. This means when they deliver the coffees for the week, they can quickly sort out the majority of the problems with any machine and also give some pointers if a new barista needs some advice. This frequent interface with our customers, also means we know exactly what is going on with our coffees and the support for our speciality coffees has been great.”
Having spoken to a fair few roasters and coffee shop owners, I know that getting the consistency needed on the client side is always a huge challenge and this approach makes so much sense. I also like the fact that they built the bulk of their business within one hour’s drive from Bristol – just in case that espresso machine decides to blow up on a Sunday morning.
We arrive at Clifton HQ. A La Marzocco bicycle is suspended from the wall, three baristas are engrossed in their training and there are 3 guys studying a huge map of the South West, discussing their upcoming routes and customers that need to be seen. “Well oiled machine” springs to mind as I sink into the plush cushions of the leather sofa while Andy is getting a flat white going. The smells from the morning’s training session still lingers and it is complimented by a sandwich from across the road. A hard life I tell you.
Andy is a natural story teller which makes it easy for me to enjoy my coffee and Ploughman’s sandwich while he tells me about his twisty journey into speciality coffee. Just after school he worked in a Pizza Express for a couple of years, but went traveling in Australia and Canada where he cut his coffee teeth. Upon his return, he completed a business degree and landed a job with Reuters as a stock market analyst. Finding it wasn’t for him he returned to the coffee world and after working for well known coffee names like Origin and Boston Tea Party, helping to set up Jika Jika in Bath and a few other ventures, he accepted the role as Head of Coffee with Clifton late in December 2012.
After the interview, he takes me to see the roastery and their Diedrich roaster. It is off-white, in contrast with the normally darker colours, and the huge computer screen used to monitor the profile of the coffee, makes it look more like the starship Enterprise than a coffee oven – I want one.
“The technology is great but you should be careful not too become too reliant on it”. Andy explains how he often flies on manual despite the auto-pilot being available and we do a batch of decaf so I can get a sense of what he means.
Andy needs to shoot off to sort out something and I get a lift back to the station from Ed, one of the directors. He is equally excited about the addition of speciality coffee to their stable and, judging by his focus on keeping the consistency of their servicing model and Andy’s focus on the quality of the actual coffee, the South West can be expecting some great coffee in the next couple of years.
Follow Clifton’s rise on their website.