Often forgotten about or overlooked as part of Leeds’ burgeoning specialty coffee scene, Cielo Coffee Roasters deserve a closer inspection, not just for their coffee, which is great by the way, but also for the way they go about doing business. Cielo Coffee began their life as Baraka in 2008, setting up shop in Garforth high street and giving a new ‘breath of life’ to a former book store. Eventually they changed their name to Cielo Coffee, which translates roughly as sky or heavens and moved into the former HSBC building in order to make space for their Probat Probatone 5 and so began their life as a coffee roaster.
Arriving early I set up by the window, sinking into one of their comfy sofas while sipping on their Finca El Encanto from Colombia brewed as a V60, enjoying the sweet cherry flavours before waking up to the subtle lemon on the finish. Linda, head roaster at Cielo had begun roasting through the glass doors next to me, but with quite a few batches to get through and only roasting once or twice a week, I left her to get through a few batches before introducting myself. Instead taking the time to read the ‘about‘ section of their website.
Cielo Coffee aren’t just about roasting great coffee, they see coffee as a social enterprise. If they valued anything above coffee it would be community, something that became evidently clear when visiting the shop and observing the interaction between staff and customers. This particular branch of Cielo Coffee feels like a locals coffee shop, like you’ve entered a party where you are the only one who doesn’t know anyone. Thankfully everyone is very friendly, from the volunteer staff to the little children to the ladies who need design advice on the purple minion they’re knitting for a childs birthday present.
For Cielo Coffee their business goes beyond just creating a space for the local community to meet, they are also dedicated to reinvesting the company’s profits back into their community. This involves reinvesting their cafes profits back into the local community through supporting other local organizations and social enterprises. The profits from the roastery also go to support their coffee community, by investing in charitable organizations working back at the coffee’s source. For more information about how Cielo invest in both their local and coffee communities you can visit www.lovetolive.org.
Not forgetting the main reason why I had come here, it was time to take a look at the roasting. Speaking to Linda, Cielo were coming to the end of their green coffee stocks, which they buy on 3 month cycles from Mercanta and so she’d been improvising a few new espresso blends. Today she was going to be roasting a blend of 70% Colombia Finca El Encanto and 30% Guatemala Finca Santa Isabel, the majority of the blend having been the same coffee I’d just tried on filter. As this was going to be for espresso, Linda had planned to roast this slightly darker than the single origin filter.
It seemed like Linda had been having fun with roasting recently, smiling while talking about breaking some of the general rules behind roasting. We were about to roast the espresso blend pre mixed, which is pretty unusual, most espresso blends feature coffees from different origins with different characteristics, both in the physical sense as well as in terms of flavour. Pre mixing a blend of Brazillian and Kenyan coffees or Rwandan and Sumatran coffees is likely to encourage catastrophic results, with the coffees coming from different climates, elevations, varietals and processing methods, meaning that they require different roasting profiles to bring out the best in each of the beans. This tends to mean that you roast each origin separately to its own roasting profile trying to achieve similar or suitable solubility before blending it post roast.
What was different about todays blend was that the Colombian was made up of Caturra, Castillo and Colombia varietals grown at 1700 MASL, while the Guatemalan was made up of Caturra and Catuai varietals grown at 1400-1600 MASL, with both coffees from similar genetic varietals and being washed process coffees, they were more like cousins than distant relatives. What’s more, the flavour profiles were similarly of purple fruit when roasted as single origin, but most importantly Linda had cupped the espresso recently pre mixed and post mixed after noticing the similar roasting profiles of the separate origins and upon tasting there was very little difference. It did seem like breaking the general rules here was pretty warranted.
Not the only rule to be broken that day Linda had also experimented with dipping the roasting profile curve in order to bring out some more sweetness in the coffee. This works by trying to give the beans slightly longer to break down their sugars. Curious? You can read more about sugar breakdown on James Hoffmann’s blog. The pay off here is increased sweetness, but the risk is that that caramelization stalls and the coffee ends up tasting baked, this is also explained well in Sweet Maria’s Stretching Out the Roast series. Its a risk where the results will be found out on the cupping table. Curious, I tried the espresso out afterwards from a batch that had been roasted previously to the same roasting profile and I had no complaints, bright sour cherries and milk chocolate that tasted great as a house espresso for cutting through milk.
What was clear watching Linda roast was that she was willing to experiment with roasting techniques in search of flavour, trying to get the most out of her beans with her customers tastebuds in mind. Having roasted for years now, she knew how to follow the rules and the science but was no longer interested in settling for a good roast, but was experimenting to see how she could improve upon existing techniques. In the end the coffee and the roasting quality speak for themselves in the cup and like with most roasters, regularly tasting on the cupping table was a priority of quality control here. As we were discussing this the tiny little grenade sounds of first crack started to go off inside the roaster.
Waiting the appropriate couple of minutes or so, Linda listened to and smelt the coffee to check it was ready, roasting this a little longer, but before second crack keeping in mind her customers preference for a darker espresso before letting the coffee drop.
The coffee smelt sweet and aromatic with little discernable difference between the varietals post roast, It seemed highly likely that this was going to be tasting great in the cup. Linda was excited to be receiving some new crops over the next week or so, hoping to be able to start spending an extra day a week roasting with the upcoming opening of their third store on Leeds’ Boar Lane about to increase the demand on the roastery. Something I’m greatly looking forward too, the roastery in Garforth is more than worth the short train ride out of the city to, but the addition of a shop I can regularly get a cup of coffee at in the city centre is great news. Helping to raise the profile of the roastery is also a great way of getting people trying Cielo’s great coffee and ordering some for home brewing too. Hopefully now Leeds’ ‘other’ roaster will start to see some of the credit it deserves and all in the name of good causes too.