Yorkshire boasts one of the best coffee scenes in the UK outside of London, with a host of specialty coffee shops and independent roasters calling everywhere from Leeds to Sheffield to York to Harrogate and Hudderfield their home. With Bradford being far from the smallest of these, you have to question why its taken them so long to establish a specialty coffee roaster. I’m not sure anybody really knows the answer to that question, but thankfully Casa Espresso have stepped in to provide their services in fulfilling that role. With that in mind I set out to find out how this fledgling roaster was getting on.
Casa Espresso actually began back in 2000 as a coffee supplier, bringing Italian style espresso to the cafes and restaurants of Yorkshire. Supplying both Italian style espresso blends and San Remo espresso machines to businesses in the catering trade who were seeking to offer a better quality of coffee to their customers. Casa Espresso still maintain their love of Italian style espresso along with their passion for using San Remo espresso machines, but they were also keen to begin roasting their own blends and single origins. This led to Nino, the head of Casa Espresso, bringing on board Jonnie Drake as head roaster at Casa Espresso along with a 1kg Toper Cafemino Electric coffee roaster.
With Casa Espresso’s new roasting operation in place, the next thing to do was find a green bean supplier, someone to provide them with the coffees they wanted to roast. It wasn’t hard to find their perfect match, with one of the countries top green bean importers practically on their doorstep. Falcon Specialty hail from Pannal a village just outside of Harrogate and have a great reputation for providing high quality specialty beans along with a dedication to ethical sourcing. Now all that was left was to begin roasting and let the quality of the coffee speak for itself. It wasn’t long after that, that a bag of Ethiopian Kaffa Forest ended up in my possession and boy was it tasty.
It was as described, an apicot and floral marzipan affair, although I’ve always picked up lime with the Kaffa Forest too. A 1kg electric roaster was never going to be enough for their operation, so Nino worked to enlist the support of their new roaster the Probat Probatone 5, a 5kg gas powered coffee roaster that would give them a higher quality roast along with higher output to meet the demand for their specialty coffee. Installed on a Wednesday, I arrived on the Thursday to join them in their excitement, where Nino showed me around before taking me through to see the new roaster.
Jonnie had roasted a few batches of a Yellow Catuai from Fazenda Londrina in Brazil the day before to make sure everything was working correctly, but really today would be the first proper day of roasting. I think they were more excited at this prospect than I was. Their new website had gone live that day as well, so this was a big step forward in the Casa Espresso story. The roaster was already getting up to temperature when I arrived, so we wasted little time before loading a batch of Rwanda Karengera.
Jonnie set about adjusting the controls on the side panel regulating the heat inside the roaster. The heat probe sits to the right just below the bean window, measuring the heat of the drum as the air cycles past it, with the feedback being relayed to the control panel. Today’s batch would be roasted at a slightly higher temperature that the previous days Brazilian due to the Rwandan being a denser bean, therefore requiring more energy to break it down and develop it. Initially the roaster’s temperature starts high before the green beans are added at which point the temperature will drop dramatically. After that you’re looking for a steady increase in temperature as you introduce more energy into the bean, Jonnie explained. If the temperature is too low, the beans will end up baked and you’ll get a lot of toasty and ashy flavours, alternatively if the temperature is too high you wont break down the sugars in the bean sufficiently before the outside burns, meaning the coffee will end up under developed.
As the coffee roasted, we discussed what Jonnie was looking for from the coffee. Ideally he was looking for the coffee to extract well under a 50% brew ratio, what this meant was that when brewing espresso using 19g of dry coffee, the brewed weight of the espresso would be 38g in the cup. In order to get the bean to extract well at this brew ratio Jonnie would need to monitor the beans as they roasted to make sure they were developing well.
Smelling the beans, you’re looking for them to get sweeter as the sugars in the beans break down, you’re also looking to make sure they don’t get too roasty as that will spoil the flavours being developed Jonnie explained. Jonnie was glad to be working on the new Probat roaster, everytime he needed to make adjustments to the temperature of the roaster, he’d tap a few buttons on the control panel and the roasters responsiveness was almost instantaneous. The Toper which they’d roasted on before, had been an electric roaster and was therefore less responsive in terms of temperature and energy changes. The Probat also gave a more consistent roast to the beans, with the bigger more responsive drum able to cycle the heat more effectively.
The roast was nearing the end by this point, so I asked Jonnie how he knew when to drop the beans. Having roasted it before he had a profile in mind for the beans, stating that the beans were best at about 22% past first crack. What this meant was that at the appearance or sound of first crack the beans would continue roasting for 22% of the total roast time. The idea being that most beans development time, which is the time after first crack should be between 20-25% of total roast time. Jonnie felt that from previous experience with the beans that 22% was about right for developing the flavours he was looking for. It was around the time he was explaining this to me that first crack began and loads of tiny little pops began sounding out from inside the roaster.
Jonnie began raising the temperature on the roaster, to stop the beans from stalling after the first crack, which prevents the beans tasting baked. Proceeding to run the roast for another few minutes to match up with his percentages, all the while smelling the beans constantly to check on their development. Eventually the point came when the coffee was ready, Jonnie pulling the handle and dumping the coffee into the cooling sieve.
Roasting finished, it was time to go and cup the coffee and make sure there were no flaws, but mainly because we were excited to see how it tasted. The coffee still hangs on to a lot of carbon at this stage and really needs to be rested before it’ll be at its best, but its also important to check the roast to make sure the flavours have come out.
Jonnie threw the Brazilian and Rwandan through the grinder and weighed out the grounds, before adding hot water. Both of these coffees were to be blended to make Casa Espresso’s new Expedition Blend, a collaboration with Pilgrim Cycling Co, a London based cycling apparel design team. That meant it was not only important to see how these coffees tasted but how they might taste together. After the alloted time Jonnie broke the crust and cleared the grounds, before we all gathered round to taste.
I tried the Yellow Catuai from Fazenda Londrina, Brazil first. To start with it’s a fairly typical Brazilian it’s got chocolate, nuts and caramel but there’s also a raisiny sweetness to it and its softer and more well rounded than some Brazilians I’ve tried, while maintaining its thick body. Next up was the Red Bourbon from Karengera, Rwanda, instantly sweet, which isn’t particularly surprising for a Bourbon, I can only describe this coffee as purple, reminiscent of plums and purple berries, it’s rich and would go well as single origin espresso in milk or as a brewed coffee. Both were great and I think everyone was in agreement about enjoying the Karengera.
After cupping, Jonnie set about making a couple of espressos from the Brazilian while we chatted. The first one came through a bit slow, so Jonnie threw it, always a reassuring sign from a barista. The next two came through perfect, so we sipped those while we chatted about Matt Perger’s 2013 WBC performance, alongside when Jonnie had visited Prufrock many years ago, a visit which led to him triying his one and only coffee from Papua New Guinea.
Espresso finished, I took a few more photos before we traded some coffee. Nino brought in a bag of the Karengera and a bag of the Londrina, joking that if I wanted the Pilgrim blend I could mix it myself. In exchange I’d brought along a new Papua New Guinea coffee for Jonnie and Nino to try, a box of Rika Rika from Maude Coffee, another locally roasted coffee I’ve really enjoyed, that bore some similarities to their Ethiopian Kaffa Forest. Exchange made it was time to say goodbye, I’d really enjoyed Casa Espresso, their coffee and their philosophy, it was clear they were passionate about what they were doing and passionate about representing Bradford. All that’s left is to leave you with a picture of Jonnie looking really proud next to his new roaster.