Nude Espresso, Shoreditch, London

I met Gerard and Richard for the first time last summer at their roastery down in Shoreditch.

Over a flat white, Gerard listened to my plans as I explained with a collection of boxes and bags, trying to get across the idea that would, nine months later, become BlankBox Coffee.

Richard was where the owner of a successful roastery should be – at the coalface, working beside his team in the roastery, making beautiful coffees.

I was elated when they agreed to be in the inaugural BlankBox. When you walk into their roastery or any of their two coffee shops, 26 Hanbury Street (just off Bricklane) or  19 Soho Square, you get a sense that these guys are in love with what they do. You can sense it in their staff and you can taste it in their produce.

 

Quick Profile:

Name: Richard Reed

Been roasting since: 2002

Learnt to roast on a: Probat 12kg

Now roasting on a: Toper 15kg

Drink: Espresso based and drip filter – pretty much anything

Favourite coffee: I look forward to tasting new arrivals each season and comparing them to previous years

Coffee party trick: A wicked, neat Patrón

Home brewing secret: Get into V60 filter pour overs. Great results at low cost

 

Name: Gerard Fisher

Been roasting since: 2010

Learnt to roast on a: Toper 15kg

Now roasting on a: Toper 15kg

Drink: Espresso

Favourite coffee: ‘East’ Espresso house blend – A blend of Brazil, Nicaragua, Al salvador

Coffee party trick: Nude espresso martini

Home brewing secret: I have a Rocket Giotto at home – perks of the job

Setting up for the cup
Setting up for the cup

Richard, you got into the coffee business during your student days in what you referred to as “a bit of a wild west” as far as experimenting and learning about coffee was concerned. Tell us a little bit about your introduction into the industry and how you came from there to starting Nude Espresso.

Like many students do, I found a job working in a coffee shop to help pay for my university fees. I immediately fell in love with coffee. The whole atmosphere of the coffee scene was contagious and I enjoyed learning about the different varietals, the brew methods – so many things to learn and to take into account. Much of this was learnt through trial and error which meant that you developed a real understanding of all the variables at play.

Gerard, quitting your job to go into business with your mate is not a decision to be made lightly. How did Richard convince you to join forces with him and what job did you quit to do so?

I used to be an IT consultant in the City, but was not enjoying it at all. I wanted to do something more personable and the financial crash in 2008 possibly made the decision even easier. Also, Rich and I have been friends since we were eleven so going into business with someone that you know and trust on that level was a very natural choice to make. I can remember Rich saying we had enough money saved up to survive for six months so we had no other choice but to make it work. From the beginning we believed in what we were doing and in the end it worked out even better than anticipated.

Richard, you worked in coffee in a couple of countries around the world. How is the UK coffee scene different from say, Canada?

I worked in Canada in 1998. The coffee scene at that stage was much more mainstream. Large chains like Starbucks dishing out huge servings (the “Venti” was extremely popular) but it lacked quality. Hot pots were also really popular and tasted vile. But that was 15 years ago and the Canadian coffee scene, like London has evolved dramatically. I’d say that globally the coffee scened are improving year on year in terms of quality and the choice they offer customers.

In the UK the changes over the last 5 years were quite dramatic. As consumers get more educated about coffee, they start to become more decerning about what they drink and it is this insistence on better quality coffee that largely drives the “scene”.

Gerard, I remember you surprised me once by saying that if it wasn’t for Starbucks, the independent coffee scene in London would have taken much longer to come to where it is today. Can you explain a bit more?

Starbucks and Costa played a critical role in creating an awareness about coffee. By introducing it to the masses, they sowed the seeds of curiosity that smaller, independent roasters and coffee sellers can now build upon. What these multi-nationals cannot compete on is the quality and passion that you get from the independents.

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Jordi keeping a keen eye

You have Richard Williams (head roaster)  and Jordi Metre (production roaster) on the roasting team. How do you guys decide on how to roast a new entry to the Nude stable? Is it a collaborative process?

It definitely is. The four of us will “sample roast” potential coffees and do the cupping together. We discuss flavours, tweak the roast profile and then collectively decide on our final production profiles.

Except for Richard and Jordi, who else are roasting at Nude?

Kurtis Leigh has been a barista and trainer with Nude for the last two years and is currently training to be a roaster.  Then there is Tom Falwith who has just recently joined us as production roaster.  He will be spending three weeks working closely with Richard Williams to get to know our roaster – a Toper 15 kg.

Gerard, have you been tempted into roasting?

Yes! I was actually production roaster for approximately a year and a half, maybe two years. Richard and I work on the premise that we both need to be able to do everything at Nude. From the fun parts like cupping and roasting to the boring bits like the accounts,straight through to the occasional emergency management like sorting out a blocked drain!

Is there a specific moment that stands out in your coffee career, apart from opening the doors to Nude Espresso 5 years ago?

The setting up of the roastery would always stick out as the highlight really. We planned the layout together, installed and set up the roaster ourselves and fitted it all out largely on our own. Standing there after it was all completed with a celebratory beer in hand, saying to each other “this is it”, was a feeling that will be difficult to top.

Does picking your coffees involve a lot of travel?

This is the fun part of the job. We travel about twice a year [not enough!] to coffee farms supplying to us. We are going to Costa Rica and Panama soon and maybe Brazil over Christmas.

Morning coffee
Morning coffee

Is there any part of the industry that you feel can do with some improvement?

There are two areas we feel quite strongly about. The first is consumer education. As Richard mentioned earlier, it is the continual education of the consumers that serves at a catalyst for improvement of the whole supply chain. The second area is that of increased certification within the industry. Eighteen year olds should see coffee as a career choice as opposed to “just a job” whilst studying for something else that might be much less rewarding.

Lastly, you guys started running coffee cupping sessions in October last year. How are these being received by the public?

Very well! We run these twice a month; one at the roastery in Shoreditch and another at our shop in Soho and the people really enjoy it. It is similar to a wine tasting in that you learn about all the variables that impact on the taste of coffee. Once people get a glimpse of how different cultivars, processing methods, roasting profiles and brewing methods impact the final taste, coffee will never be the same for them.

Find out more about Nude Espresso 

What is BlankBox coffee?

One box. Two UK roasted coffees. Through your mailbox, each month. Learn more.