Andrew's Cup Runneth Over
Friends invariably ask Andrew Turner to make the coffee at dinner parties. "I have even got the stage where I turn up with my own coffee pot and my own coffee," he says. For two decades Andrew, owner of Aroma, has been roasting his own "real" coffee. "I went into it after I failed my A-levels," he quips. There were genuine reasons why the former Priory Boys grammer school pupil from Shrewsbury failed his exams, but he soon learned to make the grade in coffee. The roast-your-own idea sprouted when, at the age of 18, he bought a cafetiere for his mother's birthday and could not find any fresh coffee to go with it. So the business, which has shops in Shrewsbury and Telford and a small industrial unit where the roasting takes place, began when coffee was not fashionable or chic. At one time Andrew would go to the docks with a trailer and fetch his own bags of coffee beans off the boats but now the loads are simply too big and, on average, five tons of coffee are delivered to Aroma's roasting premises each month. "When I started in 1981, in this country, we had one cup of coffee for every 10 cups of tea and that one cup of coffee was probably instant," says Andrew. "It's now four cups of coffee to every 10 cups of tea - and one of those four is real coffee, which is growing faster than instant."
Instant is losing its market share as Brits learn to enjoy the taste of real coffee and fuel a self-perpetuating coffee revolution. Andrew is convinced the revolution has a long way to go. New coffee bars simply expand the trade for coffee and it is lunchtime pub trade which is suffering the knock-on effect, he claims. "If you consider that in this country we consume just two kilograms of coffee per head per year and mainland European countries consume six or seven kilos per head and Scandinavian countries consume 14 kilos per head, you can now understand why every coffee company in the world has ear-marked the UK for territory growth potential." The extent of the coffee industry is breathtaking. "One in five people in the world are employed in coffee. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, after oil. There are 46 coffee producing countries, each producing some 10 different grades of coffee." Andrew buys coffee from over 20 different sources through City brokers. Sacks of beans from Congo, India, Rwanda, Uganda, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mexico, Haiti, Peru, Kenya and El Salvador lie in the Aroma warehouse ready for roasting as single varieties or as blends, such as Aroma's Shropshire blend. The roasted or ground beans are then packaged to deliver to Aroma's shops and other customers. Andrew, 41, began the business in partnership with his mother, Eileen, and father, Barrie, who had a wealth of experience in the catering industry. They opened a shop in Shrewsbury in 1981 with a roaster they bought from Vienna. The Telford shop opened in 1984. Now 80 per cent of the business involves supplying wholesalers and caterers across the country. Part of this is a direct delivery service to 354 customers, such as restaurants, cafes, hotels, offices and leisure centres. Customers put an order in one day, it is roasted the day after and delivered the next.
That's the crux of our business - our customers get coffee that is a day old, says Andrew who explains cooked coffee beans have a month's life and once ground they should ideally be used within a fortnight. It's like making a loaf of bread. The closer you get it to the production time the better it is. The best grades of coffee beans, the seeds contained in the cherries of a tropical shrub, are grown on frost-free hillsides with moderate rain - usually over 3,000ft. The dried "green" beans are cooked in a roaster at 200 degrees centigrade for approximately 20 minutes. Knowing when the beans are ready is done by ear. Andrew and Barrie, who came out of retirement to roast coffee again, listen out for a crackling which tells them the beans are cooked. This is the first level of roast - the "straight". The beans are cooked a few minutes longer to get the darker "full" roast and a few minutes more for the almost black "continental" roast. The beans are then released onto a tray where cold air stops the cooking process. Andrew, who prefers tea, says he can no longer smell his own roaster. "But if I go to another town I can smell another coffee roaster before anyone else." His wife June, who oversees the retail side of the business, is an avid tea drinker, she selects the specialist teas to sell in the Aroma shop.