Origin Coffee is one of the shining lights of artisan coffee roasting in the UK, supplying 2012 UK Barista Champion Maxwell Colonna Dashwood, a number of 2013’s top baristas, and even Abi’s (Mrs Cosy’s) employers, Perky Peacock in York. So, we couldn’t refuse an invite to go behind-the-scenes of the Cornwall-based company’s HQ.
We stopped off at Origin’s home at Helston, a few miles south of Truro, on 19 July, during our holiday to this beautiful part of the world. The town’s inauspicious industrial estate was bathed in blisteringly hot sunshine. We were welcomed by owner Tom Sobey, and soon realised that, as much as the outside of the building is dreary, the inside is inspirational.
The culmination of a long-term vision, Origin’s HQ was purpose-built for the company two years ago, with the finishing touches by interior designer Anna Hart. Functional rooms chock-a-block with all manner of coffee machines and grinders (frequently used for training sessions by Origin’s skilled baristas) sit alongside chill-out spaces with colourful sofas, cool fixtures and fittings, and well-thumbed coffee magazines.
Owner Tom Sobey has coffee heritage: his parents ran the Cornwall branch of the “Coffee Man” franchise. After brewing coffee with UKBC winner and fellow Cornwall resident Hugo Hercod at the now defunct Beach Hut café (replaced by Jamie’s “15” restaurant), Tom started selling coffee through his parents’ business. A couple of years later, in 2005, he set up Origin Coffee as an independent company.
From the start, Tom’s aim was to do more with coffee. A bit like the BBC, he aspired to educate, inform and, if not entertain, at least to tickle the taste buds. Ethical trading is important too. Everything Origin does is ethical, and around 60-70% is “direct trade”. That is, coffee bought direct from farmers, after at least one visit from a member of Origin’s team.
That might mean head roaster Phil Gevaux flying out to El Salvador and coming back with a suitcase of samples for cupping (sampling) at Origin HQ. Tom, Phil and others will seek to agree which beans they like (if any), which would fit best with the current Origin range, and how many containers they want, before placing an order direct with the grower.
Cutting out the middle man ensures a fair price for everyone, from grower to consumer, and gives Origin the chance to discover new and exciting coffees.
Beans not bought direct are sourced from trusted partners such as Mercanta, Nordic Approach and DRWakefield. Origin’s aim is for 100% of its beans to be sourced direct.
Typically, it will be around 2 months before the green (unroasted) beans arrive at Origin’s door, after picking, drying, packing shipping, etc etc. Green beans have a shelf life of a few months, so there’s plenty of leeway for Origin to order and roast while the beans are in tip-top condition.
It’s no surprise that Tom’s obsessive about coffee, and, having been involved in the sector for a longer time than many, very knowledgeable. I suggested the “third wave” of coffee in Britain started in London, which Tom rightly challenged – he says Yorkshire has as much claim as anywhere, with multi-UKBC-winning Simon Robertson of Malton-based Leoni one of a number of groundbreaking baristas in the region. Good point, Tom.
The actual roasting bit of the roastery seems amazingly insignificant. Tucked away in a small corner, the SmartRoast machine is – Tom explains – one of a small number of highly environmentally-responsible machines. It uses 80% less energy than the previous machine (which remains by its side, as a back-up), and is mindbogglingly efficient. In one year, this one workhorse helps Origin produce around 120 tonnes of coffee, with 5 boxes (each containing a number of bags) roasted, packed and ready to ship every 15 minutes. That’s about 90kg of coffee per hour.
During this intensive process, part of the machine reaches a whopping 800 C.
So, what’s next for Origin? Tom tells us about the new cafe run by Origin in Porthleven, a small coastal town in south Cornwall, just a few miles south of the roastery. The Brew House (designed again by Anna Hart) will be set up with the assistance of Origin rep and UK Barista Championship 2013 semi-finalist Dan Fellows, and is due to open… around now! A pity we were a couple of weeks too early to visit. Keep your eyes peeled on the Origin news page for the opening date.
Origin is the beating heart of Cornwall’s coffee scene, its logo a familiar sight for visitors to the region’s top coffee shops. And it has, for many years, enjoyed a strong reputation nationwide. Despite growing to a multi-million-pound turnover company, Origin’s credentials as an artisan roastery have never been stronger, as top UK baristas can attest. With its inspiring Helston HQ and its first directly-owned coffee shop on the way, things can only get better.
A big thanks to Tom and the team for the invite.