It may not be so surprising to learn that in 2018, a new coffee shop opened in London. Tucked inside one of the crossroads within London’s financial district, Rosslyn Coffee opened its doors to coffee lovers young and old. Nonetheless, since its inception it has been named as ‘One of the best coffee shops in the world.’ (Drift Magazine) and perhaps more notably, ‘A template for the next phase in the evolution of specialty coffee in London.’ (Eater.com). As of today the company has two more locations which one can visit — 118 London Wall and Tower 42, each within walking distance from the original location.
Speaking as a previous customer, what is perhaps most unique about Rosslyn is how they have managed to maintain a feel of understated professionalism whilst simultaneously featuring some of the best coffee roasters in the world regularly behind their bar. Roasters like SEY from New York, The Coffee Collective in Denmark and Proud Mary all the way over in Melbourne don’t come about every day. Yet a visit to Rosslyn will often lead a coffee drinker to encounter brands like these on a regular basis.
To learn more about Rosslyn’s values and creative vision, it was great to ask one of the founders, James Hennebry a few questions.
Speaking about their approach to what they do Hennebry notes, ‘First and foremost you must seek to “never be bad”, something which Colin Harmon of 3fe references in his excellent book (which I strongly recommend to anyone who is seeking to open a café. As well as ‘Setting the Table’ by Danny Meyer).’ He continues, ‘The first thing anyone should see when they enter Rosslyn is a smile. The room should be clean, the music at the right volume and tempo. The coffee needs to taste great and once we have achieved all this, only then can we look to take things further with areas such as the guest programme, coffee soft serve and off menu coffees.’
While Hennebry is adamant that there is no ‘secret sauce’ at Rosslyn, it is clear that a lot of thought goes into everything that they do. He notes, ‘At Rosslyn we seek to contribute to everyone we come into contact with, understanding that success is best when shared.’
For the specialty coffee shop owners who desire to expand to more than one location, keeping quality high across multiple sites is without a doubt something to be mindful of. Talking about their measured approach to growth Hennebry explains, ‘We certainly learnt a lot from our first site which led to the development of various systems and service standards. We had plenty of opportunities to open up our second site at earlier stages in the business’ life cycle however we were adamant that we did not want to make that move until we felt that we had adequate systems to cope.’
Alongside strong systems, for a business of this nature having a good team is without a doubt an essential part of the equation. More specifically Hennebry notes, ‘Find yourself a business partner who has your back as much as you will have theirs.’ and, ‘Trust is absolutely key.’
When it comes to the day to day running of a specialty coffee shop, having an effective team who are more than happy to get stuck in can often be a tricker thing to get right. Without the right people welcoming and serving guests, it will be much harder to build regulars and deliver the best possible experiences. About this Hennebry comments, ‘We hire our team members based upon personality and a cultural fit, rather than their aptitude on a coffee machine. We can teach someone how to make coffee, we cannot however teach someone to be nice, have empathy or take pride in what they do.’
One way that Rosslyn demonstrates to its employees that they value them is by paying them above the London Living Wage—something that is not as common in London amongst specialty coffee businesses as one might expect. Notably, Rosslyn works closely with the Living Wage Foundation and was even invited to speak about it at the House of Commons alongside Heathrow Airport and KPMG.
Concerning the creative vision of Rosslyn, it is interesting to note that while today the brand now has three stores within London’s financial district, neither of the two owners—James Hennebry and Mat Russell—are originally from the UK. Instead, the pair hail from Kilkenny, Ireland and Melbourne, Australia. Moreover, the name of the shop is inspired from ‘Rosslyn Street’ in West Melbourne. This is where James first learned how to make coffee and not too far from where Mat grew up.
When it comes to a specialty coffee shop space, creating something distinctive and memorable can often make a world of difference in persuading a coffee drinker to make a return visit. The minimal but welcoming feel of the Rosslyn stores seems to be an ideal complement to the highly focused and quality-led brewing approach that baristas deliver. As noted on their site, Rosslyn seems to bring together all of the detail and high standards of an Australian Cafe alongside the warmth and community of an Irish Pub. To have maintained or improved standards whilst successfully opening two more sites speaks volumes about how team Rosslyn operates. This is especially impressive as their original site is noted by Hennebry as ‘one of the busiest specialty coffee shops anywhere in the world’.
To say that we are in somewhat of a ‘romantic era’ for specialty coffee is debatable though it is likely a lot less disputable to say that the pair behind Rosslyn have a lot of love for great coffee. Frederic Chopin once said: ‘Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.’ Perhaps just as fittingly, after a city such as London has brewed a vast quantity of specialty coffees and more coffees, another kind of simplicity begins to emerge.
Is Rosslyn a template for the next phase in the evolution of specialty coffee in London? While it might be hard to come to a definite conclusion, if like team Rosslyn you are not concerned with trends but with what tastes good then you should definitely make the effort to pay them a visit.
Photos by Lauren Kallen.