The best UK coffee roasters
The independent coffee scene is booming – let us introduce you to those leading the roasting revolution, from the Caravan coffee roasters to Assembly coffee in Brixton
Looking for the best coffee roasters? Coffee experts from the UK's best coffee roasters give us the lowdown on the independent coffee scene in the UK, from Caravan coffee roasters to the man behind The London Coffee Festival. If you want to try out some new coffees to roast each month, read about the best coffee subscriptions. Next, check out the best coffee beans, best moka pots and best coffee grinders to buy from our expert coffee contributor, Celeste Wong.
Colonna Coffee, Wiltshire
Highly regarded Colonna Coffee in Wiltshire is a roastery that has also devised its own compostable coffee capsules (there’s a coffee shop – Colonna & Small’s – in Bath, too). Colonna Coffee argues there’s plenty of science involved in creating the perfect cup. The roast is essentially a series of chemical reactions, with roasters altering the machinery to manipulate these reactions to accentuate the flavours they want to show in the bean and minimise those they don’t. The processing that the beans undergo can, therefore, produce a myriad of flavours in the final cup.
Hard Lines Coffee, Cardiff
Known for its bright and playful branding, Cardiff-based roastery Hard Lines Coffee wants to keep the coffee scene looking fresh, fun and not too serious. Not only do bags of whole-bean and ground coffee look appealing, but it also sources sustainably, aiming to build long lasting relationships at origin.
Staying clear of the sometimes-pretentious perception of speciality coffee, Hard Lines has a range of no-nonsense guides covering a wide net of brewing methods for curious coffee-drinkers, including how to Aeropress and how to make the perfect espresso martini. You can also subscribe to a monthly coffee club subscription, starting at £10 per month. hard-lines.co.uk
Perky Blenders, East London
Perky Blenders started operating as a small coffee cart outside St James’ Street station, but it’s now considered to be a staple of London’s bustling speciality coffee scene. The roaster was founded in 2015 by brothers Tom and Adam Cozens, along with Adam’s wife Victoria, with a shared aim of running a responsible, friendly and accessible to all roaster. Perky Blenders now runs four shops in the capital and has roasted coffee stocked at over 50 stores in the UK, with a booming subscription service to keep coffee-lovers caffeinated at home.
This roaster is particularly keen to change the industry’s perception of being exclusive and snobbish, offering their advice to both coffee aficionados and curious beginners.
Try it yourself: Perky Blender’s current coffee of the month baba budan, which you can purchase as a one-off or as a subscription, comes from India and boasts roasted nuts, chocolate, and red apple tasting notes. Alternatively, take your pick from their range of coffees including forest blend, single origin, acacia blend and sow blend. perkyblenders.com
Hasbean prides itself on sourcing speciality coffee from around the world, supplying what it finds to coffee shops and coffee-drinkers through subscriptions on a constantly changing and seasonal schedule. Traveling the world in search of the best coffee, Hasbean hopes to share those flavours and make what it deems as remarkable coffee become more available and sustainable.
Hasbean roasts coffee to order from its own roastery just outside the county town of Stafford, which is then delivered across the UK along with coffee brewing equipment and accessories. Hasbean's extensive range of subscriptions, where subscribers receive freshly roasted coffee on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis, spans whole beans, ground or green, with flavours changing seasonally and expertly blended into four unique flavour profiles.
Try it yourself: A recent new coffee is the Yemen Sanani-Mahwiti Natural, a natural coffee from Yemen with nutmeg, brown sugar, cooked plum, prune and cinnamon tasting notes. hasbean.co.uk
We Are Here, Margate
Margate-based We Are Here likes to keep coffee uncomplicated. Instead of confusing customers with over-complicated coffee jargon, this roastery sells just three coffees, designed to be for three different ways coffee is enjoyed. You won’t find many details on the bags, other than a few descriptive ideas of how you like your coffee, whether that’s laid back, juicy or strong. This is not to say We Are Here ignores the importance of origin, how coffee is processed or who farmed it - they provide all those details here. It’s also worth noting that all coffee beans are specialty grade – the highest quality level of coffee available, and sustainably sourced.
Coffee bags are split into ‘This one’, from Brazil and Peru, ‘That one’ from Brazil and ‘The other one’ from Guatemala, with each bag based on how you make the brew and if you take milk. By focusing on the primary reason for drinking coffee that is taste, We Are Here is eager to let customers be guided by their own personal preference. weareherecoffee.com
Unorthodox Roasters, Scotland
In 2015, Unorthodox Roasters founders Chris Bode and Neil Buchan spent over 10 months in major coffee producing countries in South and Central America. After spending time in Brazil, the pair were totally hooked on the process of coffee roasting and became only more interested as they travelled through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. All of this led them to opening their own coffee roastery when they returned to their homeland of Scotland.
All coffees are single origin and sourced from plantations around the world – many of which they have personally visited – with CO2 neutral bags filled with beans from countries such as Myanmar, Nicaragua and Papua New Guinea.
Try it yourself: For something a little different go for a bag of ‘Clockwork Ninja’, a Colombian coffee boasting soft fruity characters and a palpable toffee kick. unorthodoxroasters.co.uk
Girls Who Grind Coffee, Wiltshire
Wiltshire-based Girls Who Grind Coffee is an all-female, small-batch coffee roastery founded by Fi O'Brien and Casey LaLonde. After discussing their love of coffee and experiences within the industry, both felt that when it came to equality, there was a lot of room for improvement. In short, they decided to make the change they wanted to see themselves.
GWGC focuses solely on sourcing speciality coffee from women producers, seeking out coffees that are creating positive change through the empowerment of women. GWGC roasts all coffee in small batches, using roasting technology which tracks all roasts so they can analyse quality as well as maintain consistency.
To support coffee producers who struggle to make a living wage from its products, GWGC created its own initiative which puts 10% of the sale price of all its retail bags of roasted coffees back into the pockets of its producers. The roastery also sells stylish brew equipment, tees, mugs and more, all of which would make brilliant gifts for coffee-lovers. girlswhogrindcoffee.com
Old Spike Coffee Roasters, Peckham
Set up in 2015 in a small café in Peckham, Old Spike Roastery has a simple vision: to use coffee as a vehicle for change. The UK’s first social enterprise-cum-speciality coffee roastery, Old Spike, trains and employs homeless people across the business, whether they work in the café, assist in coffee production or deliver the coffee to wholesale customers.
In terms of finding the right coffee, Old Spike sources speciality grade green coffee based on the principles of direct trade, quality and seasonality. The brand also works with producers that consistently supply the highest scoring coffees, as higher quality means a better price for the farmer (often 4-5 times higher than the Fairtrade minimum).
Discover blends from China, Peru and Rwanda with flavour notes such as lemongrass, jasmine and dulce de leche. What’s more, 65% of Old Spike’s profits directly supports people experiencing homelessness, so you know that every bag of coffee purchased goes some way to ending homelessness in the UK. oldspikeroastery.com
Easy José Coffee Roasters, Shepton Mallet
Traceable, transparent, and ethical: these are the three pillars which lie at the core of Easy José’s business. This Shepton Mallet-based speciality coffee roaster is hailed for its ethical and sustainability sourcing model, one which works year after year with the same communities to maintain a long-term partnership. Easy José aims to source only the higher quality products in an honest and fair manner, continually taking steps to have a positive impact on the communities involved.
For example, Easy José’s direct partnership with the indigenous Mayni Community in Peru allows the brand to help those people grow specialty coffee while protecting Rainforest biodiversity. Its investment in and support for the many communities in the area guarantees that it’s the only roaster able to buy these coffees, promising customers world exclusive coffee.
Try it yourself: Try the Mayni Community’s Coffee for its chocolate, almond and honey notes, which you can buy for a range of grinds including cafetière, AeroPress and drip filter. easyjosecoffee.co.uk
Ancoats Coffee Co, Manchester
Housed in a former cotton mill, Ancoats Coffee Co has quickly established itself as one of the go-to places for coffee in the north-west. Owner Jamie Boland first experienced great coffee when he was sleeping on a friend’s sofa in Melbourne, where he found work as a barista. When he returned to Manchester, he decided to bring some of the Australian coffee culture back to the city by setting up his own business.
Try it yourself: Set against the bare brick walls and iron pillars of the Royal Mills, try the appropriately named Warehouse City seasonal espresso roasted in small batches in the café itself. ancoats-coffee.co.uk
Dear Green, Glasgow
Glasgow roastery Dear Green runs training sessions for barista skills and sensory skills, as well as roasting exceptional coffee. Lisa Lawson (below) of Dear Green says bringing education to baristas not only adds value to its offering but also ensures that the product is executed with the same commitment to flavour, care and attention as the growers on the farms supplying the beans.
As well as being a Living Wage employer, Dear Green has an ethical approach when it comes to coffee. Lawson believes it's important to have the same values throughout the supply chain: buying in some of the poorest countries in the world brings its own moral challenge. Dear Green buys coffee with a conscience, working with trusted importers who go to the farms, instead of being driven by their bottom line, which encourages purchasing non-traceable, low-quality coffee.
Try it yourself: Although the house blend Goosedubbs is Dear Green’s biggest-selling product, lots of customers buy a subscription and wait for the weekly recommendation to arrive at their door. A recent favourite was the Kenyan Jokambu AB – sourced following a staff trip there this year. deargreencoffee.com
Caravan Coffee Roasters, London
Providing quality coffee is a key aspect to running Caravan Coffee Roasters. For Freda Yuan, head of quality control, a normal working day might see her drinking up to 40 cups, tasting the production roasts from the previous day to confirm the quality is up to standard and consistently maintained.
Yuan is also a licensed Q grader – grading coffee based on its attributes like flavour, aroma, mouth-feel and acidity – which is the highest certification in the coffee industry (you need to pass 22 sensory exams in three days to prove you’re good enough).
Try it yourself: Enjoy cups of Guatemalan Christian Rasch (with its “apricot, tangerine and white chocolate” notes) as roasted by Freda and her team at one of the Caravan restaurants in King’s Cross, Bankside or Exmouth Market. Don’t forget to order a slice of chocolate stout cake with chocolate caramel and burnt coffee cream while you’re at it. caravancoffeeroasters.co.uk
Full Court Press, Bristol
Outside of London, Bristol has one of the most flourishing coffee scenes in the UK, with a number of high-end coffee shops and roasteries. Central to the city’s scene is Mat North, who runs his own excellent coffee shop Full Court Press, where the choice of filter and espresso-based coffees changes every few days. One week it might be Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees, another week they may be from Yemen and Sumatra.
North says that speciality coffee stores do what the chains do, however the quality of raw ingredient, the service and other factors are of a higher quality. For example, Full Court Press offers traceable coffees of high quality and pay good money for them, not unlike a good burger restaurant choosing high-quality beef.
Having started his coffee career as a barista at Caffè Nero, North has worked both ends of the coffee industry, an experience that has helped him run his own place. In the heart of Bristol’s old banking district and law courts, North's tiny two-floor coffee shop offers two espresso coffees and two filters by a team of highly skilled baristas. fcpcoffee.com
Assembly Coffee, Brixton
Launched by Nick Mabey, a certified Q grader – the coffee world’s equivalent of being a qualified wine sommelier – and Michael Cleland at the London Coffee Festival in 2015, Brixton-based Assembly works closely with many of the UK’s best coffee shops, supplying delicious coffees such as Santa Theresa (from Panama) with its promised notes of rum and raisin and bourbon, Manuka honey and tropical fruits.
For Mabey, it takes more than perfectly roasted beans to make a great cup of coffee. Mabey believes the people behind making or serving the coffee can enhance the experience, outside of the seemingly endless variations possible in flavour and profiles of the raw materials. assemblycoffee.co.uk
Bean Shot Coffee, Somerset
Tucked away on an industrial estate in the pretty Somerset town of Bruton, you’ll find Bean Shot Coffee’s roastery, barista school and coffee bar. Launched in 2013 by Australian Nick Law, Bean Shot Coffee produces speciality, ‘micro lot’ coffee, most of it sourced ‘direct trade’ from farmers. It roasts the highest-quality single-origin coffees and releases new coffees each month, with previous offerings from farms in Java, Honduras and Costa Rica.
Since opening, Bean Shot Coffee has grown to supply outlets across the UK, the Middle East and Spain, as well as its own coffee shop in Sherbourne. Focussing on just coffee, coffee equipment and method, it was a brave move to open in the Dorset town, but Law says the reaction has been “superb”. beanshot.co.uk
London’s expanding coffee scene has been captured in a new book featuring the stories of the people and the places that created it. Written by Lani Kingston, author of the bestseller How to Make Coffee, and with stunning photography from Canadian lensman David Post, it takes the reader on a fascinating journey around the capital’s roasteries and coffee houses.
From contemporary Scandinavian- style coffee houses to timeless Italian cafés passed down through the generations, the book looks at the city’s long love affair with the black stuff (£20, Hoxton Mini Press).
Words | Mark Taylor
Photography | GU Photography, Gavin Smart, Brian Sweene, Zsuzsa Zicho, Tom Sparey, Charlie Mckay