Island Roasted Artisan Coffee from the Isle of Wight
Before I sat down to write this article, I made myself a coffee with Island Roasted ‘Mocha Blend Espresso’ beans. Our cat Aslan, sat annoyingly on top of everything as cats do but he gets away with it. Cat and coffee alongside, I was ready to write.
Possibly the most popular way to start every morning – with a cup of tea or coffee. For me it is always coffee and if I’m running late I may skip some steps in my routine but never the coffee! Though the varieties may vary, tea and coffee are staples around the world, with billions of cups being consumed every day.
Island Roasted is a company, owned by brothers Larry & Dan, that lives, breathes, and consumes A LOT of tea and coffee. They are the definition of ‘family run business’, starting in the early 90’s when their parents bought a catering trailer, which just so happened to come with an espresso machine. This led them to become distributors of CMA Astoria coffee machines, which in turn, introduced them to an Italian coffee roaster. This distribution route worked perfectly and ensured quality was at the forefront, as the coffee was delivered within one week of being roasted, something that was traditionally unheard of.
Over the years, the company have opened a number of bricks and mortar shops within the Newport area, starting with a small premises on Watchbell Lane, moving to a slighter bigger place on Pyle Street and finally settling in the old Beavis building after 18 months of renovations!
Island Roasted as we know it today was born in 2010 after Dan’s love of coffee & engineering led him to buy a small roaster and learn the art of coffee roasting, a true artisan craft. Dan started selling their own roasted coffee in Caffe Isola (Coffee Island in Sicilian, where his wife Viviana is from), which was when the business really grew. Due to the demand from the wholesale customer base, they quickly invested in a state-of-the-art roaster to keep up with the growing demand.
Coffee roasting is a perfect partnership between art and science, and that even factors such as wind direction has an impact on the roasting process. The only consistency is the heat transfer; this is paramount at all stages of the roasting process. Due to the huge range of external factors, the team have recorded the roast profile of every batch they have ever roasted! In over 10 years, that’s a lot of batches!
The tea side of the business wasn’t introduced until much later on. Whilst Dan is ‘the coffee man’, Larry is ‘the tea guy’ and his objective was to create a tea that matched the quality of the coffee.
To achieve this, he set out on a journey to source some really great teas and in the process learnt more about the different blends of tea and became a qualified Tea Champion through the UK Tea Academy. This all took around 3 years to get to a point where they could launch a tea brand to run in parallel to Island Roasters – Wight Label Tea.
As loose-leaf teas and botanicals don’t demand a minimum batch run like the pyramid bags do, Larry had the freedom to fully experiment with flavours and blends, in which he created some really interesting short run exclusive teas. From some early blends of hibiscus apple and pine needles making a bright blue infusion to an authentic smokey ‘Russian Caravan’ blend highlighting some of teas long history, the options are limitless.
They run Island Roasters, Wight Label Tea, and Caffe Isola with the help of their Mum, Dad and wives making it a true Island family business. The business has continued to grow year on year, which has seen them needing to expand their range of roasters, they are introducing their biggest one to date – a huge 120kg Petroncini!
In fact, they are so good at what they do, their All-Day Breakfast and Yunnan Green won gold stars at the Great Taste Awards 2020. What an achievement from someone who just wanted tea to be more appreciated!
Dan, Larry & family are passionate about making their business as sustainable and ethical as possible and have taken great steps to ensure this. They only source tea from partners who are members of The Ethical tea Partnership, they have recently installed solar panels at their roastery, use their electric van for deliveries, use plant-based pyramid tea bags, re-packaged their products using oxi-degradable packaging, as well as a project to remove single use cups from the Island.
Dan & Larry are both members of the Special Coffee Association and The Speciality Tea Association of Europe, and as authorised trainers through the SCA they are qualified to deliver Barista courses. Ultimately, they are ‘trying to provide customers with a great all-round coffee and tea experience’.
I caught up with Larry when he dropped off a few of their products and had a chat on the doorstep. We could have talked for hours; it was great hearing how passionate he was about tea and coffee. One of the products he gave us to try was their loose-leaf peppermint tea, which tasted amazing. It was so fresh, with such a great flavour, one that you just don’t get with mass produced tea. I wanted to cook something that would really show off the tea without getting lost with other flavours, so made a peppermint and white chocolate cheesecake, the recipe can be found at the bottom of the page.
How has the tea and coffee industry changed over recent years?
Hugely! Consumers are becoming ever more aware of quality and really expect great coffee wherever they go – whilst hopping on a ferry, to visiting an attraction, to a beachside cafe and even at the pub, and tea is really starting to follow in coffee’s footsteps. What is even better is that by buying direct from a roaster (either as a retail customer or a business customer) you can actually get far better-quality coffee and teas at a lower price point as the layers of middlemen that all the big brands go through don’t exist with us, and it seems that more and more people are actively seeking these above the big-name brands. Plus, there are less carbon miles by buying something produced locally.
What is your favourite tea?
I think the Yunnan Green has to be my favourite – it is certainly my go to tea that I start my day with, and I think it is a really good example of what a quality green tea should be. All too often when I speak to people they say they don’t like green tea and when you ask them about it, it is almost always because they have only ever tried cheap commodity grade green tea bags which over extract almost instantly and they also usually don’t realise that you need cooler water for green teas and so their experience of green tea has always been bitter and astringent – once they try the Yunnan Green brewed properly (water temp of 80˚C) they realise it is not bitter and something incredible. The health benefits from regularly drinking quality green tea are also fantastic (as they are with most quality real teas – i.e., teas made from leaf sets from the camelia sinensis).
What would you recommend as a low budget way of brewing good coffee at home?
You can still get really good results with a cafetiere/French Press, but again how you brew is key – under extract and it will be weak and sour, over extract and it will bitter and overpowering. The AeroPress is another cheap brewer, but it is so versatile – there is even a World AeroPress Championship that is taken very seriously. It is virtually indestructible, great for travelling or the outdoors and you can make excellent coffee with it, you can get them from the Island Roasted web shop (www.islandroasted.co.uk) and Google ‘AeroPress recipes’ – there are thousands out there! In terms of improving coffee at home grinding fresh is the single best way to improve the quality of the coffee you make, hand grinders are inexpensive and still produce great results, just make sure it is a burr grinder and not a blade grinder as grind size consistency is hugely important to ensuring even extraction. When Covid restrictions allow we be re-starting our coffee courses (and creating some tea ones) that we run at Caffe Isola which include ‘Brewing at Home’ and ‘Home Espresso’ courses to help you get the most from your coffee at home.
What are the specific challenges that you face running a business on the Isle of Wight? & What do you enjoy about the IOW most from a business perspective?
As we have always been based on the Island it’s difficult to know what specific challenges, we face by being here – I guess there are some minor effects for longer delivery times and some higher shipping costs for goods both to and from the Island, but mostly we really see benefits to running a business on the Island. There is a real community feel even in the business world with a lot of collaboration going on especially amongst local producers – for example both Briddlesford Farm Shop and Bluebells Cafe both use and stock our coffees and teas and we also use their Briddlesford milk at Caffe Isola. It is similar for Grace’s Bakery – another longstanding Island family business – in that we use their breads at Caffe Isola, and we also supply our Island Roasted coffee and Wight Label Teas to their bakeries and cafes across the Island. The Island really is starting to get national recognition for quality local produce and there is a very strong gastronomy scene here and so being part of that really is a benefit. Wight Marque have also been very good at highlighting local producers with our Island Roasted coffee certified as a Wight Marque Producer and Caffe Isola as a ‘Gold’ Wight Marque venue (due to the wide range of local Wight Marque producers we use).
As an Islander (who has also spent a number of years working away), I think the Island is an incredible place to live and work – you can go for a surf or a run before work and be in touch with nature, work in some great industries from artisan local produce to electronics, marine sector & composites and be home in time to have fish & chips on the beach with your family watching the sun go down – I think that’s pretty special!
Where do you source your raw ingredients from and why?
From all over! The specialty coffee industry operates very differently to the tea industry and so sourcing also differs.
For coffee, we work with a handful of green coffee importers who (normally) travel the world selecting some great coffees. For our blends and some of our core single origin coffees, we forward buy what we expect to use throughout the year to ensure we have enough for what we need (hence why Covid has been very difficult for small roasters who had contracts to fulfil but lost almost all of their wholesale volume). The Honduras Finca Los Mangos is a great example of a more Direct Trade approach, where one of the green coffee importers we work with linked us up with Leidy Chinchilla who inherited her farm from her Grandmother. They noticed that the coffee from one area of her farm was really good, but it just got mixed in with her other coffees and sold to the local washing station for processing as generic Honduras Arabica coffee. The volume of the higher-grade coffee that she produced fitted with the volumes of Honduran coffees we had been getting from the importer and so they got her to keep this coffee separate and we buy her entire crop of this coffee every year which varies from 10-15 bags (69kg bags) depending on her harvest. By keeping it separate, she gets a much higher price for this coffee and we get an exclusive coffee. It also provides her with certainty knowing ahead that all of this crop will be bought and for a known price. Another good example is the Guatemala Primavera family where one of the daughters came to the UK to import her family’s coffees and sell direct to artisan roasters again ensuring we get quality coffees, and they get higher prices for it.
For other coffees such as the small run single origins we will sample some coffees and select something that is interesting and maybe even only get a single 69kg bag of it and once it’s gone, we will move on to another interesting coffee.
The tea industry is a bit different in that you have large portions of the market controlled by big multinationals with many of them owning their own tea plantations as well. The smaller or independent tea gardens are often exporting the super high end and expensive teas leaving that middle ground of speciality grade but affordable quite hard to source in. It took a long time but eventually I found a tea merchant who operates in a more similar way to the specialty coffee industry, sourcing great teas from all the main tea growing regions. In time and as volumes of loose-leaf tea sales increase, I hope to establish some direct trade links with tea producers to start bringing in more short run and interesting teas to give people something new to taste every time. Although we will continue to grow the Wight Label Tea range in the biodegradable pyramid bags, the Wight Label project was always about having a concise and consistent range, whereas in the Island Leaf loose leaf teas I can have much more freedom to source a wider range of teas as there is so much to explore!
What is next for Island roasted and Island leaf?
Whilst waiting to be allowed to reopen Caffe Isola and for our wholesale to start back up fully once our customers are allowed to reopen, we have been busy making changes to some of our packaging – moving our Island Roasted coffee into Oxi-degradable packs – as well as growing our retail web sales particularly with our Coffee Subscriptions. We will be adding Tea Subscriptions and Coffee & Tea Bundle Subscriptions soon as well as launching our Wight Label Nespresso compatible pods (biodegradable) in our Wight Label coffee range. Of course we have our new roaster to setup and commission and we are also looking forward to growing our coffee and tea education programmes both for wholesale and retail customers with a wider range of courses. It has certainly been a tough year with Covid, but people’s love and appreciation of coffee & tea has only grown and so there is plenty for us to do to keep meeting the ever-increasing demand for great coffee & tea.
To download this recipe – download here.