By: Holly Bowman 01 September 2017
This month marks our fourth year of trading as North Star Coffee Roasters. This seems an incredible milestone for any independent business but following the opening of our latest retail space, we have certainly been reflecting a lot on our journey so far over the last few weeks.
When we started, there was no other roastery in Leeds wholesaling specialty grade coffee. We had what seemed like a mammoth task on our hands to develop the demand for higher quality, ethically sourced coffee across our city. There were the greats who had long since been established (Laynes Espresso, Opposite etc) but there was a huge difference between the coffee served in these specialty focused shops and other food and drink venues across Leeds and the surrounding areas. We understood the challenge on our hands, we were asking our customers to spend (in some cases) a considerable amount more on their coffee and equipment and to invest in staff training whilst the benefit and return of doing this was by no means a guarantee.
Four years on we are still working with many of those early customers and have been delighted to see their coffee sales grow and grow, in some cases doubling from where they were before. We firmly believe this is a direct result of the improvement in quality and not just in the roasted coffee served but in the skill of the baristas and in the equipment used. We have had over 200 students through the North Star Coffee Academy since September last year who have taken SCA Barista exams and have upgraded countless grinders and espresso machines. The impact is tangible and not only at this end of the supply chain…
In our first year of trading, we purchased 156 sacks of green coffee (totalling around 9.5 tonnes) paying on average 130 per cent above the Fairtrade minimum price. This year we will have purchased 624 sacks of coffee equating to 37 tonnes of green coffee. Whilst this is still a small amount in comparison to a lot of our esteemed competitors, it feels like a huge achievement to us and really hit home earlier this year when we were able to commit to purchasing the entire specialty production from two smallholder farmers in El Salvador. Again, for this coffee we have paid a price that is 155 per cent higher than what it would have sold for on the commercial market. This is precisely what we set out to achieve when we established North Star and have valued the incredible learning curve we have been on over the last four years.
Each origin trip we go on, each new wholesale customer we work with, we gain more knowledge and understanding about the industry we work in. There seem to be a host of new challenges faced daily both at the start and end of the supply chain whether it be the effects of climate change or the drastic impact of Brexit…one thing is for sure though, it is imperative now more than ever that we continue to raise the demand and value placed on quality, ethically sourced coffee.
The North Star Coffee Shop & General Store
One way for us to tackle this challenge has been to open up our first ever retail space right next door to our roastery…yes, North Star now has its very own coffee shop! This has been by far the hardest thing we have done in our four years of trading but we have seen people come in and be completely transfixed by the roasting happening next door, we can sense the powerful impact this can have on people’s understanding of what goes into coffee and we feel this will have a positive impact on our wholesale customers too.
The aim in setting up the shop was to completely communicate the values we hold dear from the suppliers we have chosen to the aesthetics of the space. We chose to work with the young and dynamic duo of Revive Spaces on the design even though they arguably hadn’t completed a project like ours before. They seemed to intuitively understand exactly what we wanted and Krag and I saw a bit of ourselves in them that we wanted to support! We then set about choosing materials that acknowledged our approach to environmental responsibility working with a lot of reclaimed wood and flooring that is made from ninety nine per cent recycled material. All the contractors used were local companies and much of the design echoes the raw nature of where our coffee comes from with textiles brought back from origin trips to Central America and a distinct organic feel in the materials used.
When it came to the food offering we knew that it absolutely had to be as good as the coffee. For us, there was only one option…Noisette Bakehouse! Established four years ago, we really feel as though we have ‘grown up’ with these baking babes having collaborated on events together and just generally supported each other. We also both won the Young British Foodie Award in our respective categories thanks to our approach to what we do – their bakes are constantly inspiring, totally unique and utilise the very best ingredients sourced from suppliers committed to quality and ethics. We have therefore set up our very own Noisette run bakery on site which churns out bakes bespoke to the space including the original cardamom infused Pasteis de Nata, Ultimate Blueberry Breakfast Muffin, trademarked Morning Cake (I could go on…!) all prepared fresh every morning. We also have a plated breakfast and lunch menu, with brunch on the weekends, that changes regularly to feature seasonal ingredients and stockists of the General Store. There are a host of events and cuppings planned in for the next few months too so keep an eye on the social media pages below to stay up to date!:
Facebook: North Star Coffee Shop & General Store
The support we have received over the last four years and particularly in the last two months has been totally overwhelming and we would not be where we are now without you – to all our Kickstarter supporters and to those who have been with us from the beginning, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have allowed us to build a way of life that we live and breathe and to build connections and relationships with people across the globe. This is always what coffee has been about for us and we are genuinely excited for what is to come over the next few years.