After getting lost in the corridors of a large industrial estate, I eventually find Little and Long’s unit as roaster and owner, Saskia Falconer, fires up her roaster for the day ahead.
“Welcome to my office” she smiles. “Would you like a coffee”? Whilst preparing a delicious Aeropress from her Nicaraguan microlot, she explains how as a student in New Zealand she worked in coffee shops. “As much as I hate to admit it, we made those cappuccinos with as much foam as possible, but hey, those were the nineties”.
After settling into her red sofa with an equally red tin cup of welcome relief balanced on my knee, I ask about her journey into coffee.
Name: Saskia Falconer
Been roasting since: 2007
Learnt to roast on a: 1954 direct flame Vittoria
Now roasting on a: Probat LP12 1960(ish)
I drink: Stove top or plunger first thing, flat whites or macchiatone when I’m near an espresso machine, aeropress after lunch (abiding by those Italian rules). Fresh mint and ginger tea when I’m over caffeinated or good Barolo if the tea doesn’t help the caffeine twitches.
Favourite coffee: Tricky, changes frequently and varies according to time of day and the meal. Absolute favourite, a cup of freshly brewed plunger sat in the sun on the front deck at home.
My coffee party trick: Affogato, coffee and ice cream… what more could you want! (even better as a corretto)
My home brewing secret: A grinder, simple but effective
“I completed my studies as a physiotherapist but always had a strong interest in and love for food and drink”. She darts between her coffee station and the roaster as she tends the temperature controls whilst keeping an eye on the timer of the Aeropress. “In 2007, whilst casually Googling, I came across this course that just sounded amazing. It was a Masters in Food Culture and Communications – near Parma in Italy. I flew over to have a look at the University (started by the Slow Food movement) not expecting to land a place given that I had no previous experience in the hospitality industry and, at that stage, they only placed 26 from about 500 applicants.
However, after meeting a surgeon that was just completing the course and him describing it as the best year of his life (he now runs a winery and B&B) I resolved to put in a good application. Long story short, I heard I was accepted 3 weeks before the commencement of the course. A one month notice period at work was nervously negotiated to a 3 week notice period and I moved to Italy for a year!”
After some banter about Italy and how much we both enjoy their passion for food, I ask about where she learnt about roasting specifically. She tells me about Massimo from Lady Cafe and Andrea from Trinci and how they introduced her to, as she calls it, “the most un-Italian way of roasting in Italy”. With a focus on the origin and quality of the bean, roasting single origins and roasting much lighter roasts than typically found in Italy, they taught her to pay attention to what is happening in the drum by listening and watch all the time. And this is not only talk. While roasting, Saskia has her ear to the drum constantly, waiting for that “1st crack” of the bean.
In 2008, after completing the course, Saskia returned to her job as a physiotherapist but invested in a small Gene Roaster to experiment with at home. She roasted for herself and, as time passed, some colleagues at work also started to beg for some of her beans.
Fast forward to 2012. Saskia’s husband accepted a “job swap” with a doctor from Cape Town and they moved out there for 12 months. “After 2 weeks of being at home I realised I’d need to get something productive to do. I contacted Truth cafe and explained to owner David that I wanted to get involved with the roasting side of his business. I really landed on my feet and gained a huge amount of experience there”.
Saskia’s first job there was to help with the rebuild of their huge 60kg Probat roaster called Colossus.The fact that she helped to build the roaster I was oohing and ahhing about a week before on my holiday to Cape Town was uncanny.
After the rebuild, Saskia stayed on to roast with them for a couple of months until she returned to the UK where she then went on to open Little and Long.
After the interview, Saskia packs the beans for me and I start to laugh out loud when she seals the bag with a pair of hair tongs. See, I met Saskia at the coffee festival earlier this year and it was there that she saw me using the same technique in lieu of an expensive sealing machine – we both concur that we doubt that a sealer can do it faster than either of us.
The story of Saskia’s start up is similar to Eddie’s from Roundhill and other roasters I have spoken to over the last year in that she mentioned just how much help other roasters have given her. Judging by the taste of her coffee she will soon be dispensing advice of her own to the coffee younglings of tomorrow.
Want to learn more? Visit Little and Long.