A Shenstone couple is helping to bring great coffee to the Midlands with their own micro roastery. Amy Norbury discovers more
Walk down any high street, in any town in the country and you’re sure to be greeted with the sight of a large chain coffee shop or three. Coffee is the most popular drink worldwide with around two billion cups consumed each and every day, some 56 million of them right here in the UK. Our commitment to the great British cup of tea is still strong, but it seems we’re becoming a nation of coffee lovers.
But while large multinationals still dominate cafe culture here, it has to be said that the coffee they serve, well, isn’t actually all that good. If you’re lucky enough to have a good independent selling quality coffee on your doorstep – and there are a few notable ones in the area – that’s great. But why do so many of us put up with inferior coffee?
It’s a question Shenstone couple Scott and Emma Taylor asked themselves repeatedly since moving to the Midlands from Leeds, where there is a thriving independent cafe scene serving up consistently delicious brews. Fed up with the chance of a good cuppa being few and far between, Scott and Emma decided to do something about it.
Their business, Shining Stone Coffee, is a micro roastery – currently based in the couple’s garage – which is rapidly growing to provide quality, locally roasted coffee to cafes and businesses around the Midlands and beyond, as well as selling directly to coffee lovers through their website.
“We’ve got a real passion for coffee, and after leaving Leeds and moving here we were surprised at the quality of the coffee available,” says 38-year-old Scott. “There were a couple of places in Lichfield and a couple in Sutton where you could get a good cup, but your average place to go to have coffee was either a massive chain or somewhere serving poorly made coffee.
“The quality of coffee we were used to in most places was really good, and it just felt there was a market around here for upping the quality of the coffee.”
So Scott, who teaches design and technology in a local secondary school, and Emma, who’s a stay-at-home mum to the couple’s two children Max, three, and two-year-old Mia, set about investigating coffee roasting as a business concept – something they could do at evenings and weekends to fit around the school day and family life.
“I spent quite a lot of time on the south coast with some roasters down there, around six months learning all the processes,” Scott explains. “And then it was another good six months before we were happy with the product, so it’s taken a year to get to the point where we’re confident and consistent in what we’re producing.”
The point of no return for the business was when Scott and Emma made the decision to invest in an sizeable piece of machinery – their roaster.
“At mid-life crisis time some blokes buy fast cars; I bought a roaster,” laughs Scott. “There aren’t too many people doing this around here, there’s certainly no other micro roastery in Lichfield, so we thought it was worth taking the plunge.
“We decided to go for a ten kilo roaster from the beginning. A lot of people who set up like us buy a five kilo roaster, but talking to other roasteries I found that you can get up to capacity pretty quickly. And with having to roast in the evenings and weekends around work and family time, it was better to have a beast which we can just roast once and get large quantities from. We can get 30 kilos an hour from ours.”
The roasting process gives Scott and Emma a chance to get creative, with even the smallest changes creating a very different end product.
“I’ve always been interested in coffee, how it’s grown and the provenance,” says Scott. “The thing I love about it more than everything is the science behind it. There’s an awful lot of science in the roasting process, with huge variables. The beans go through different stages as they roast, and minor alterations can have a massive impact on the flavour.
“There are so different flavours you can bring out through different roast profiles; if you finish it a lot earlier you bring out the fruity notes whereas if you roast it a bit longer you bring out more chocolate notes and that’s so interesting, finding out at which point these flavours develop.
“When it comes to flavour, there are definite differences across the country in what people seem to want. In London people want the sharper, fruitier flavours whereas here people seem to prefer the more chocolatey notes.”
From a core offering of two products, the Shining Stone selection has rapidly expanded.
“We started out very simply; we wanted an espresso blend and a decaf which would be our core products,” says Scott. “And from there we’ve evolved into single origin coffees, and going forward we’re going to be going much more down the single origin route. I see coffee going down the line of guest roasters in cafes, much like guest ales in pubs, and definitely focusing on single origins.
“And it’s a very seasonal product; your Brazilian and Colombian stock will be coming in at a different time to your African beans. A lot of the coffees I’ve got at the moment are central and South American, but we’re looking to progress to more lively, fruity African coffees as we go into autumn.”
The house blend, now in its fourth incarnation, currently comprises beans from Brazil, Colombia and Sumatra and each origin has something to bring to the party. The result is a smooth and full bodied blend with chocolate, hazelnut and sweet caramel flavours, and a hint of fruit acidity.
“We create our blends after the roasting process,” says Scott. “A lot of roasters just whack all the different beans in together, but they all roast differently. Your Brazilian stuff is grown lower while your Colombian stuff is high-grown and to roast them all together means you’re not going to get the best out of the flavours.
“We’re aiming to create a better quality product by roasting each bean type individually to get the optimal flavour out of it and then blending post-roast. Time-wise it means you’re roasting three times instead of just the once, but the end product is a much better quality.”
The roasting process is surprisingly quick, taking under 15 minutes, but it takes time for the coffee beans to develop their full flavours.
“The biggest struggle is organisation, both for me and for customers,” says Scott. “We sometimes get customers ringing up saying they’re out of coffee and need some tomorrow! The roasting process may be quick, but we need time to get the best from the coffee; you can use it after four days, but it really starts to take on the best flavour after around ten days.”
With provenance of products becoming an increasingly important issue to many of us, the name Shining Stone brings a nicely local feel to Scott and Emma’s coffee.
“We spent ages trying to come up with a name and had loads of ideas but nothing quite right,” explains Scott.
“The village of Shenstone, in the Domesday Book, was called Shining Stone, or beautiful stone, and it was a place where people used to come together to eat, drink and socialise. And that all linked together with what we were doing; it’s everything we’re aiming to achieve with our coffee.
“And we wanted the brand to be really graphic design-led, rally bold colours and a contemporary look which will look fantastic on the shelves, so we’ve invested quite a lot in the branding side.”
But even with a quality product and eye-catching design, it has take time for Shining Stone to persuade cafes to swap their big-name coffee brand for something more independent.
“Getting people to understand the product and move from the big chain brands has been a challenge,” says Scott. “I definitely underestimated how difficult it would be to go into cafes and get them interested in taking the product.”
Shining Stone’s big break came when Packington Moor farm shop decided to stock the coffee in their shop as well as serve it in their cafe.
“I went in, had a chat and got on really well with them, we did some taste-test samples and they just said yes, let’s go for it,” says Scott. “And because they’re quite a well-known brand, things have escalated off the back of their support.
“Also Richard at 15 On The Corner in Lichfield has taken some single origin coffees from us, which gives us real credibility because he really know his coffee.”
While the single origin coffees have been a universal hit, Shining Stone’s decaf has proved to be one of the most popular products.
“The decaf’s really, really good,” says Scott. “It’s completely natural with no chemicals, and you honestly wouldn’t know it’s decaf. There are quite a few clients who are perhaps locked into contracts with big suppliers so they’re just taking decaf, but sizeable amounts.
“It’s a similar roasting process but you’ve got to be a bit gentle with it because it’s gone through an extra decaffeination process so it can be a little bit brittle. You can create decaf in a few ways and a lot of mainstream coffee is decaffeinated using chemicals, but the one we use is decaffeinated at source in Colombia using sugar cane which is grown alongside the coffee. They extract ethyl acetate from the sugar cane which takes out the caffeine during the roasting process. It does impart a slight sweetness to the coffee; usually the decaffeination process will strip out some of the flavour but this one actually adds to the it.
“We’re finding a really strong market for decaf; it’s not something we anticipated but good decaf is hard to come by.”
An exciting new development for Shining Stone is a collaboration with Lichfield gin makers Fifth Spire on a special new coffee liqueur, which launched to huge acclaim at the Lichfield Food Festival over the August Bank Holiday.
“Tom from Fifth Spire approached me a few months ago because he was looking to develop a cold brew coffee liqueur and wondered if I knew anything about it,” says Scott.
“We spent a good couple of months developing different cold brew coffee recipes which would work to cut through the alcohol, testing different brews, and we actually stumbled on a recipe which is brilliant quite quickly.”
Made with the finest single origin beans from Peru, Scott uses huge amounts of coffee in each batch, carefully cold brewed over 20 hours to create a rich, chocolatey coffee taste that holds unique flavours inherent with the Peruvian region. The cold brew concentrate is mixed with British wheat spirit and a little demerara sugar to make a powerful coffee drink that’s perfect for sipping over ice or as the backbone to an espresso martini.
“Tom’s taken it to various people in the industry and we’ve had amazing feedback, which is really encouraging,” says Scott. “He’s also been to trade fairs and tasted various cold brew liqueurs which are already on the market, and ours differs because it’s not as sweet as any of them. We found that most of them are overly sweet so we’ve reduced the sugar content in ours; it’s perfect over ice for sipping and great in cocktails.”
The first batch of 200 bottles quickly sold out, and luxury retail behemoth Selfridges are already interested in stocking the liqueur.
With the success of the coffee, and the interest in coffee-related products, Scott has an eye on what might be next in the pipeline.
“I’m also looking at developing a non-alcoholic version of the cold brew at some point, but for now all our focus is on promoting the liqueur so it’s something I’ll look into when I have a bit more time; there’s not often much of that, what with the coffee, teaching and being a dad!”
For more information visit www.shiningstone.co.uk or find Shining Stone Coffee on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.