In conversation with Stephen Leighton

An afternoon of conversation and book signing with Stephen Leighton, head of Hasbean and author of Coffeeography.

Launch event for Lincoln Coffee Festival took place in the first floor lounge of Coffee Aroma.

A very interesting afternoon of conversation with one of the lead players in coffee.

Stephen Leighton talked about the people and farms he obtains his coffee from. Long term relationships, friends of the family.

From a very humble beginning, Stephen fell in love with coffee as a child passing by a coffee shop with coffee roasting, he started with green beans, roasting on a pan at home, selling his roasted coffee off a market stall.

It was then trips to origin, where has formed long term relationships with the growers.

One family will recommend another farm, often in a different country.

Oxfam were invited to the event, they may have actually learnt something.

Stephen Leighton engages in direct trade, the farms are paid a higher price for quality.

Contrast with FairTrade. Farms are paid a tiny premium over and above commodity price. Fine if low altitude, low quality commodity coffee, they get a tiny margin above what they would otherwise get for low quality coffee destined for instant coffee or the coffee chains.

Instant coffee. Beans are boiled to remove any resemblance to coffee, then chemically adulterated to provide a coffee flavour.

FairTrade there is no incentive to the growers to improve the quality of the coffee, coffee is coffee is coffee, a commodity, price determined by international coffee markets in London and New York, a price determined by speculators.

To improve the quality requires more care in all the stages. Only the red coffee cherries, this may require several passes to pick the best ripe cherries, it requires careful sorting. All of which adds to the cost to the grower. Only worth it if these extra costs are recuperated if can command a higher price for the coffee. This will happen with speciality coffee, where everyone in the chain wants higher quality and is willing to pay for it, the coffee roaster, the indie coffee shop, the discerning coffee drinker, it will not happen with commodity coffee.

Therefore when buying a bag of Hasbean coffee from Coffee Aroma, or a bag of Square Mile coffee from Madame Waffle, or a bag of coffee direct from Union Hand-Roasted, you will pay a higher price, in return, higher quality coffee, a better price to the grower.

FairTrade has degenerated into marketing hype for low quality coffee, a brand.

It is difficult to know, has the latte levy had an impact, or at least the proposed latte levy, which the government has refused to implement?

It may have made people think, and the clientele in specialty coffee shops tend to care more.

Do we discourage takeaway coffee, encourage sit and relax with speciality coffee served in glass or ceramic? If takeaway, encourage use of compostable cups or offer a discount if a customer brings in a clean KeepCup for a refill?

What are the life cycle costs?

What we do know, plastic is destroying the planet. At the very least we need a discussion between barista and customer, to explore the options.

Business as usual, plastic-lined disposable paper coffee cups, is not an option.

A 5p levy on flimsy plastic carrier bags has reduced their use by in excess of 80%. It has though had an unintended side effect.

People buy a cotton tote bag. Next time out shopping buy another, then another. There is now a world shortage of cotton and the price of cotton has soured.

Cotton is one of the worst environmentally damaging commercial crops grown. Big demand for water, toxic cocktail of chemicals sprayed on the plants, toxic chemicals used to process the cotton.

Apples in a supermarket are graded to give a uniform size. There is no rationale for this other than convenience for the supermarket. Those rejected as non-standard, perfectly good apples, go to waste.

The same happens with coffee. Kenyan AA, is no measure of quality, it is a measure of size.

The same bad habits in coffee, rejection of smaller beans. When cupped for flavour, found to be quality beans, beans that were being sold as commodity coffee, and thus commanding a low price.

Every bean has a story to tell. Coffeeography attempts to tell that story. Do we know that story when we drink our coffee? Coffee mats cf beer mats, postcards, information leaflets, a story on the bag of beans, a QR code to scan?

What is insufficient information, what is too much?

At the very least, farm where sourced from, Q rating, roast date.

What is a coffee shop, or at least an indie coffee shop?

Traditionally, from when coffee shops were first established as coffee spread from Yemen, across Arabia, through the Ottoman Empire and into Europe, places of discussion, discussion whilst drinking coffee.

A discussion with Stephen Leighton, over a coffee carefully brewed by Sarah hard at work downstairs, was to recreate if only for an afternoon those early days.

Coffee shops were also places where merchants met to discuss trade. And yes, trade was discussed.

Book signing for those who bought a book. For those who could not make it who wished to come, a few signed books have been kept back. Very limited numbers, first come first served. Please ask.

A couple of us were very lucky and given a presentation box of coffee samples.

As I write, a beautiful aroma is wafting across from the coffee samples.

The afternoon was the launch event for the Lincoln Coffee Festival. Check with Lincoln Coffee Collective for details of further events. Watch out for a coffee cupping session.

Special thanks to Stephen Leighton and those who paricipated for an interesting discussion, and to Coffee Aroma for hosting.

Last year Dale Harris Director of wholesale at Hasbean won the World Barista Championships.

Hasbean will be opening a pop up coffee shop in Brick Lane for the duration of the London Coffee Festival (12-15 April 2018).

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