Small Batch Coffee, Hove, Brighton

I ask all the roasters I talk to “Who’s coffee would you be proud to have next to yours in a BlankBox?” This is how I came to hear about Alan from SmallBatch Coffee in Hove, just 10 minutes west of Brighton.

After talking to them it was easy to understand why other roasters would recommend them. I am not sure if it is the fresh air on the Brighton coast or the combination of a Yorkshireman (Alan) and an Aussie (Brad), but these guys personified relaxed and friendly. That, and their coffees are great.

Quick Profile:

Name: Alan Tomlins
Been roasting since: 2007
Learnt to roast on a: Probat Probatino 5kg
Now roasting on a: Diedrich IR 12
I drink: Everything, but Chemex would be my favourite brew method
Favourite coffee: Washed bourbons from El Salvador. For me the tastiest and most consistent coffees I’ve come across over the past six years.
My coffee party trick: Pouring slightly rude latte art
My home brewing secret: Simple. BUY A GRINDER.

Name: Brad Jacobsen
Been roasting since: 2007
Learnt to roast on a: Probat Probatino 5kg
Now roasting on a: Diedrich IR 12
I drink: Espresso, Cafetiere
Favourite coffee: Coffee doesn’t get much better than a good Yirgacheffe
My coffee party trick: Juggling takeaway cups (badly)
My home brewing secret: Be precise, weigh your coffee and water and time your brew.

Alan and Brad, give us a bit of a run down on how and when SmallBatch was founded.

Small Batch started about 6 years ago. Me and Brad had worked together previously as chefs and were running a little group of three coffee shops for someone else when Brad and his friend Ben had the idea of launching a micro roaster in Brighton similar to those they knew in Australia. We set up with Ben and his wife Naomi purely as a wholesale roaster in an industrial estate and grew steadily if unspectacularly. Things really kicked off when we moved the roastery to central Hove and opened our shop in the front in March 2009.

 

A large part of a chef’s job involve pairing flavours and tastes. Would you say that your experiences as chefs help you in choosing and roasting coffees?

It helps in terms of developing a palate, although I’d say my palate only really developed after I started working with coffee.

Do both of you roast or do you split the responsibilities at SmallBatch quite clearly?

We both roasted in the early days but as the company grew Brad had to focus on the business and I took on all of the coffee side of the business.

 

Brad, Australia is known for independent coffees and the antipodal presence in the UK coffee scene is a strong one. Why do you think Australia has such a strong coffee culture?

I think the culture in Australia and NZ was just ahead of the UK five or so years ago and as the UK scene grew there was obviously a great influence in terms of people and ideas from Australia. I think now the UK coffee scene is just as evolved and has its own culture separate from Australia and New Zealand.

 

You have six locations in and around Brighton, which must take a fair amount of managerial effort. What does your typical day look like at SmallBatch and how do you keep your staff beaming like they do?

There’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ day! Everyday is different with its own challenges and thats half the fun. I think we try to engage all our staff with the coffee as much as possible and make them feel a part of everything the company does from sourcing through to the final service of the coffee.

 

You recently returned from your first “coffee trip”. This must have been quite a learning experience? Tell us more

I went to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica in January to visit some of the farms we currently work with and to find some new ones. It was an amazing experience to see coffee on the tree and to see the full process from cherry through to exportable bag. It also highlighted the sheer amount of work that goes into producing specialty coffee and the challenges that producers face, especially this year with the coffee leaf rust problems. The most special thing however was to meet the people that grow these wonderful coffees, to see their passion for their product really gave me a sense of responsibility in preparing their coffee for the final consumer.

 

Any adventures on the trip that will make it stand out when you think back to it in 10 years’ time?

We were visiting Finca Muxbal in Chiapas, Mexico which is a stunning farm situated high on a plateau in the middle of a forest. To access the farm you have to drive up an incredibly steep and winding road called the ‘caracol’ (snail in Spanish) which has sheer drops on every corner. Jorge the owner was insistent that I drive us up and as we were climbing he informed me the road was built 50 years ago by his grandfather who had no engineering knowledge, just some dynamite and a few shovels!

 

For me roasters fall roughly into two categories, the alchemists and the scientists. Where would you say you sit?

Somewhere between the two. My approach to roasting is firmly rooted in science and theory but we roast between twenty and thirty batches a day here and they don’t all behave the same way (as much as we would like them to). This is where the alchemy comes in for me, a good roaster needs to be able to adapt to a change in the roasting process and get the roast back in line with the profile.

 

How many coffees do you taste on, say a monthly basis, to be able to select the ones you want to include in your range?

It depends on the time of year as some months are full of new arrivals while at other times there are very few fresh crops arriving. Right now we are seeing the first arrivals from the Central American crop landing in the UK and so there are a lot of samples to try and we will probably cup 30-40 different coffees this month.

 

And lastly, what coffee would you really really like to get your hands on this year?

We have an orange bourbon varietal from Finca El Carmen in El Salvador which is grown exclusively for Small Batch and was absolutely stunning last year. I was able to visit El Carmen while the coffee was on the tree this year and I can’t wait to taste the final cup in June when it arrives.

Check out Small Batch Coffee for yourself.

What is BlankBox coffee?

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