The Roasting Party – Winchester

After a freezing 75 miles on my trusty steed of a motorcycle, I turn into an industrial estate on the edge of Winchester. All I want is to hold a warm cup between my hands. I don’t care if it is coffee, I would settle for a mug of boiled water. It is the wrong industrial estate. Curse. I’m not sure which is harder – the cold that settled in my bones or my lack of direction. Then I smell it. From the next door estate, a familiar whiff reveals the presence of coffee being roasted. Like a chocolate-crazed kid on an easter egg hunt, I set off for the next gate. I loose the smell for a second and almost start crying, but then I notice the puff-puff of a roasting chimney. White smoke. The last time I saw that, everyone seemed happy. So am I.

Quick Profile:

Name: Kirby Sinclair
Been roasting since: 2007
Learnt to roast on a: Toper 18kg
Now roasting on a: Probat 12kg & Probatino 1.2kg sample roaster
I drink: Piccolos and sparkling water
Favourite coffee: Natural Africans
My home brewing secret: For a French Press, use a tablespoon for the pot, 1 tablespoon per person. Pour. Wait 1:45 min. Stir vigourously. Plunge. Total time should be around 4min

Name: Westley Cusick
Been roasting since: 2009
Learnt to roast on a: Toper 18kg
Now roasting on a: Probat 12kg & Probatino 1.2kg sample roaster
I drink: Piccolos and “the Barry”(2 ice cubes in a piccolo glass topped with milk and a double riz)
Favourite coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
My coffee party trick: Teaching people how to spin milk with out using milk (cold water and a drop of fairy washing liquid) perfect every time
My home brewing secret: V60 pour over! 22g of single origin, ground coarse into pre wet filter. slightly saturate and leave for 20 secs then continue to pour the rest of hot water (300ml roughly)l in a circle motion over the coffee until full extraction.

The Roasting Party-Kirby making filter coffee

Kirby, wearing a dungaree, greets me at the door. I’ve always liked dungarees but only when worn by carpenters, blacksmiths and now, coffee roasters. One immediately picks up on a sense of “fun” in the roastery. Not the kind playing Playstation is mistaken for but a sense that all present are really enjoying what they are doing, blurring the lines between work and passion.  I’m not the only one who picked up on this. While Kirby prepares me an emergency flat white, I chat to James, a neighbour, that spends a couple of hours a week with the guys from The Roasting Party to learn about roasting. He doesn’t necessarily want to start roasting, but it is evident that he appreciates just how many little variables there are and how much skill it takes to roast consistently brilliant coffees.

“Would you like some of these”? Head roaster and partner, Westley Cusick extends a hand to reveal some coffee beans. I am slightly confused since I have been offered many cups of coffee by many roasters but never actual roasted beans. I take a couple of still warm beans and wait to see if this isn’t a kind of initiatory prank, but both Westley and Kirby are already chewing away so I follow suit. To say that the beans by themselves are delicious might be taking it a bit far, but after tasting three of four different beans, I can definitely see the value in doing so to pick up some of the flavours bound to end up in your cup of coffee.

The Roasting Party-Wes shows off his blue steel

As Wesley returns to tend to the beans, I settle down with Kirby to talk about who exactly The Roasting Party is.

Kirby used to work as a barista until best friend, Ed Cutcliffe, set up The Little Marionette in Australia about 8 years ago. This well known Sydney coffee roaster and shop is the spiritual sister of The Roasting party and the place where both Kirby and Westley honed their coffee skills to perfection. Like so many roaster stories, this one started from humble beginnings. Whilst working for another coffee shop, Kirby started helping Ed out one day per week – as mates do. They realised that they got on as business partners and Kirby joined The Little Marionette two years after it’s launch.

Kirby met his English wife while she was living in Australia and, after a year of long flights between Oz and the UK, he decided to follow her and settle in Winchester. “There’s always been a plan to open a coffee shop with it’s own roastery here, but at that point, rents were prohibitively high and I didn’t feel like my network was right for starting a business whilst so fresh off the boat”. Kirby tended his other passion by coaching squash whilst working out exactly how he’d wish to enter the coffee scene in the UK, especially as he didn’t necessarily wanted to travel to London every day and felt he wanted to do something locally instead.

Fast forward four years and The Roasting Party was born in the summer of 2013. Old friends Ed, Westley and Kirby owns this gem with Ed popping over from Australia every now and then to talk shop.

“Although I like being involved in running the roastery, I really enjoy the retail side of it. Some of the greatest times I’ve had was behind an extremely busy counter, with Ed and Westley, pumping out 1,500 coffees a day.”

When I ask what the core focus of The Roasting Party is, Kirby responds without any hesitation. “We want to create exceptional blends for milk based drinks and be really closely involved with our customers, working with them so they, as baristi, can bring the best out of the coffees we roast and blend”.

The Roasting Party-Sample roasting

After the interview, Kirby takes me out for lunch in town at one of their customers, the recently opened, Black White Red. Upon entering, I’m immediately disappointed that I decided to take the motorcycle instead of the train as Black White Red takes it’s wines as seriously as it does it’s coffee and a wine tasting would have been a great compliment to the day. Kevin Letouf, co-owner and ex-buyer for Laithwaites Wines is obviously excited about this taste emporium he started with England rugby captain, Chris Robshaw. Kevin’s enthusiasm is contagious and in the back of my head, I’m already thinking of a way to ask Kirby if I can sleep on the roastery’s sofa after some “field based research”.

As I listen to Kevin and Kirby talk about the similarities between coffee and wine and their ideas for introducing both drinks to the patrons of Black White Red, it becomes clear what Kirby meant when he told me that they are looking to work very closely with their customers. I can see that it is not merely about delivering training for baristi, but really understanding what the customer is aiming to do and then supporting it through their coffees.

The Roasting Party-BlackWhiteRed Coffee board

We say goodbye to Kevin and get into The Roasting Party’s clapped out, but endearing little van. As Kirby drives through the afternoon Winchester traffic, I’m silently happy they don’t have a faster vehicle. Back at the roastery, we have another couple of coffees, using different methods and they all taste exquisite. After a couple of photos and more bean tasting, I leave Winchester behind wondering if the Wintonians know what is about to hit their collective gustatory registers. Drop in to Black White Red, choose your colour and enjoy. And if you see a small van being driven way too fast – blame it on the caffeine.

Their website is launching very soon – bookmark (and then watch) The Roasting Party.

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