It happens rarely that we get a chance to talk to a person with over 30 years of experience with coffee. Young generation of coffee entrepreneurs like ourselves gets introduced to the industry fast, taking advantage of new technologies and Internet. Therefore we could not but feel humbled comparing our knowledge to Simon Wakefield who spent his childhood on coffee farms all around the world.
On the way to DRWakefield, on a rainy morning in London, we walked over Tower Bridge and went through Borough Market passing by the corner Monmouth cafe. Undoubtedly a founding member of London’s speciality coffee scene, it is the café and roastery where it all started for many people including Gwilym Davies and Markus Reuter. What a pity we were late for our day of coffee trading and we could not stop for a morning coffee.
Nevertheless we did not have to wait for our morning cup for long, taking a turn after the next bridge we found a white painted building with DRWakefield sign on the door bell. We rang it, awaiting a talk with three Q graders. The topic being their expertise we felt humbled, but in a minute we were welcomed by a friendly team and were sat down with Simon Wakefield and Henry Clifford to enjoy a freshly brewed coffee. It was a blend of Malawian coffees that the team cupped the previous day. After cupping all the coffees separately they create a blend with them. This construction often brings surprising and unexpected taste quality.
Simon visited a coffee plantation for the first time when he was only six years old. What a family vacation that must have been! Since then he went through various jobs and professions, he helped to create SCAE and he became the first SCAE co-ordinator of the UK chapter. Simon was one of the interviewees in the brilliant coffee documentary Black Gold. Although working with coffee for that long even his team is sometimes surprised by the knowledge he has got. Having not visited any coffee origins ourselves yet we had to ask about the biggest surprises he experienced with clients joining him in those countries for the first time. Simon explained it is often rather cultural difference and warmth climate that surprise people. You get often sick and you need to be prepared to drive many kilometres in four-wheel drives.
Talking about another misconception of coffee farmers, William Hobby offered his point of view: “People think that most farmers in Africa are poor. It may be true in our terms, they don’t have that much of possessions, they live much simpler lives then we do. However they are pretty successful in what they do and live quality lives within their standards.” Will spent over 7 years working with coffee in Kenya and Tanzania, he knows what he is talking about and his insight was very interesting.
The whole operation of the trading company consists of, obviously, coffee trading and logistics, quality control and administration. At least one trader out of five is always present at the trading desk, working his laptop. This job could not be more different from the cupping side. Both tasks need to be done pretty systematically but each of the activities requires different skills and activates different senses. The team goes through at least one cupping every day, often they hold several a day.
That happens in the coffee lab next door where we headed after the chat. Thierry Akroman, Quality Control Officer, prepared a cupping that featured coffees from all over the world while Derick Fredricks was roasting samples on a Probat Sample Roaster for the next day of cupping. We were also told a story connected to each of the coffees and we slowly realised how little we really know. We got to know and see the lower grade coffees from Kenya that Will brought with him to the UK. It is not everyday you get to try a coffee of lower grade, since these are not usually brought from Kenya buy green beans buyers. Also we got our small batch of roasted speciality robusta to taste back home. Those two samples were very interesting to cup in terms of exploring our sensory palates.
We came to DRW for an introductory visit and we came back with newly gained information and inspiration. We wanted to find a partner that would help us understand better the coffee chain that is worked in the coffee industry and we are now sure we found such a partner in DRW.