What’s brewing for Bristol coffee?

We had coffee and a catch up (from a safe distance of course) with some of our best loved independent caffeine hit purveyors to find out how they’re adapting towards life beyond lockdown.

Extract Coffee Roasters

Extract Coffee Roasters was born in 2007 with the simple mission to ‘make coffee better’, roasting coffee on a lovingly restored vintage roaster in a garden shed. Since then it’s grown into a successful, ethical, specialist business, based in the heart of Bristol but serving customers across the UK.  They have 650 — mostly independent, often local — wholesale customers and a strong sense of community.

Duncan Kendall, joined as MD just four months ago, although he’d been a friend and self-proclaimed super-fan of Extract for many years. To state the obvious, it’s been an eventful start. When the hospitality industry shut down in March, they lost 96% of their wholesale trade within 48 hours — and were left with hundreds of kilos of unsold freshly roasted coffee to boot. The few traders who could stay open were a bonus. But it’s been the boost in online sales that provided the lifeline.

It’s kept the roastery open, which has been good financially, but also emotionally. It’s a big thing for all of us that it’s stayed open throughout. Online sales have more than doubled and much of that has been driven by social media, “the volume of interaction, support and positive stories has been brilliant.” It’s allowed them to sell the vast majority of the roasted coffee and build stronger relationships with their “amazing, loyal” and “massively caffeinated” customers. 

Duncan – Extract Coffee

Giving back is a huge part of Extract’s ethos, and with help from the Boston Tea Party, they’ve donated 8,000 cups of coffee to NHS intensive care units – including loaning machines and filter brewers. And they’re supporting their wholesale customers too, sharing information and advice through newsletters and a-soon-to-be-launched webcast and through a 20:10 restart fund — where closed cafes and restaurants can promote Extract’s webshop with a 20% discount — and receive 10% to use for their future.  

Duncan believes that the mentality of people in the hospitality industry will get them through, “the mental resource of the people in this industry is incredible. It’s going to be tough but this is an industry that makes things happen.” And he feels that the crisis is a time to take stock, come up with new ideas, transform business models and use new technology, which gives him optimism for the future. “The industry is slowly moving from adapting to survive, to adapting to thrive. We believe in what we are doing and we’re not giving up”. He adds, “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the support of our community and our customers. We’ve a lot to be thankful for.”

Shop here: https://extractcoffee.co.uk and Bristol Food Union customers get 20% off and 10% goes to the Feed the frontline.

Wogan Coffee

Bristol’s oldest roastery was set-up by Brian Wogan in 1970. It’s now the biggest indie in the southwest and specialises in artisan, sustainable, hand-roasted beans and barista training. It was about to open its first onsite café when the crisis struck. Having lost the core of its wholesale trade, it has also had to furlough most of its team, but like Extract has seen online sales flourish.

With so few staff now working, the Wogan family has had to get hands on as Brian’s granddaughter and company director, Laura, explains, “we’re doing it all ourselves, it’s been crazy. We’re used to 90 Kilo orders and now it’s switched to mainly 250g bags. Although some people have brought six kilos at a time!” She’s also responsible for social media which “wasn’t very big before but has been great. Innovations like coffee subscription services and packages of coffee and kit have really taken off.”

As well as online retail, people can still pop in and buy from the shop, with contactless payments. “It’s an awful situation, but I’m quite optimistic about the future as long as there isn’t a second wave. Where people have reopened to sell takeaway coffee, they’re really busy and people call every day to ask when the café will be open.”

Shop here: https://wogancoffee.com

View from a coffee shop — Bakers and Co

But what do the wholesale coffee buyers think? We spoke to Kieran Waite, who with his wife Imogen, owns five of Bristol’s best loved eateries – Bravas, Gambas, Casa Cantina, Masa + Mezcal and Bakers and Co. It’s been tough. They’ve had to furlough their 88 strong team, which made Kieran, “very happy, I didn’t want to let people go”, but the all or nothing structure meant he lost his entire team overnight when he could really have done with some of their skills. And with three small children at home they’ve had a lot to juggle.

The restaurants had to close, but they made an early decision to change their coffee shop Bakers and Co into an online ‘click and collect’ provisions store, safely supplying essentials – bread, flour, lentils and their very popular, takeout coffee. Its success has allowed him to unfurlough a few members of staff and to expand the range.

The few positives have been the “increased sense of community, people putting their heads together, supporting each other. It’s also made people appreciate how much they love their jobs. I’ve enjoyed being back on the machines, bashing out coffees. Customers are so grateful. It’s been quite poignant. When you ask people how they are they are more honest in their responses. You see people properly, sincerely.”

The outlook for coffee?

“Coffee will do well. It’s an inexpensive luxury.” But Kieran is worried about the future of hospitality in general, warning that things will have to change, “there was a lot wrong to start with, business rate and rents are too high, there’s no margin for error,

a lot of people won’t make it. We have to be smart and creative.” And when they do reopen many businesses will be reliant on takeaway and outside seating which will be hard hit when the weather turns. He advises cafes and restaurants to “keep it simple, focus on what customers need, good quality, but less variety, concise menus.”

If we want our independent coffee culture to survive, customers need to support their local eateries, and embrace the changes they’ll need to be make. Grabbing a flat white to go’s a good place to start.

Shop here: https://bakersprovisions.co.uk/food-for-home/