By: EH 11 November 2013
An insatiable thirst for quality drinks has led to micro-breweries springing up all over Yorkshire in recent years.
Now two young entrepreneurs are hot on their heels after setting up Leeds’s first coffee micro-roastery.
Graduate Alex “Krag” Kragiopoulus, 23, and barista Ellis Hall, 19, have teamed up to found North Star Micro Roasters in Meanwood, creating speciality, hand-roasted blends from bean to cup.
It is one of more than 100 such businesses across the country – predominantly in London and the South East – that are reclaiming the real coffee experience from the clutches of the corporate chains in much the same way as the real ale and craft beer resurgence has railed against mass-produced keg bitters and lagers.
“It has slowly started to trickle up north and in Manchester and Newcastle there have been quite a few springing up,” said Krag. “With Leeds not having one we saw the perfect opportunity to bring it here.”
Krag, who grew up in Roundhay and now lives in Knaresborough, was inspired by a trip to Kenya where he spent time on a coffee farm.
Having previously worked as a chocolatier, his keen palate is instrumental to the roasting and blending process while Ellis showcases his barista talent by giving demonstrations and training to customers.
He learned his trade while working at LMDC espresso bar in his home town of Harrogate after finishing his A levels.
“The more I found out about the coffee and the machine I was working with the more I wanted to know,” he said.
“I did a lot of extra reading. Any time I could find when I wasn’t working I was trying to find out more about speciality coffee.”
The pair met through Krag’s girlfriend Holly Bowman, who works for Harrogate-based coffee importer Falcon, through which they source their beans. It is headed by Mike Riley, former head coffee buyer for Taylors of Harrogate for 25 years.
“All our coffees are sustainable and ethically-sourced, and the price paid to farmers ensures they can produce it to the same quality year after year,” said Krag.
“We’ve had some information sheets produced which tell customers where the coffee has come from, what altitude it was grown at, the variety and details about the farm.
“I think it’s really important to people in Leeds to know where their coffee has come from and rather than just known it has come from a Leeds-based micro-roaster, they also know the name of the farmer who grew it.”
In keeping with their local ethos, their signature house blends are named after Leeds landmarks – Dark Arches Espresso and Czar Street Seasonal Espresso.
“We wanted it to be very Leeds-focused,” said Krag. “Dark Arches is a little bit darker, it’s more of a traditional coffee that cuts through milk really well. Czar Street is roasted a little bit lighter, it’s more of a funky coffee that works well as an espresso.”
The pair took on a unit at Penraevon Industrial Estate at the end of August and opened for business last month.
“We spent a lot of time making it look really presentable because the main focus of ourbusiness is bringing clients down to the roastery so they can see the whole chain from the green beans to the actual cup,” said Krag.
“We get them to try all the different coffees so we can put them together and make their own unique blend.
“We want customers coming to us and buying our two blends but we also want them to be a massive part of creating something themselves so when they take it to their customers they know the exact processes the coffee has been under.”
Their first customer was The Food Academy at Leeds City College’s new Printworks campus.
They have also started supplying to city centre cafés and bars such as The Greedy Pig in North Street and Outlaw’s Yacht Club in New York Street.
“One of the major challenges for us was selling because we’re both young,” said Ellis. “For us to walk into a café with people having used their current coffee supplier for years and say change to ours – it’s not as easy as that.
“But as soon as we hand out samples we let the coffee do the talking.”