27 November 2011

The Best of the Best Coffee in Brighton

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Redroaster Coffee House, Brighton
~  With the proliferation of coffee shops continuing at a pace through Brighton, another one is just about to open in village Kemptown, the question of where to get the best coffee becomes an important topic.

And although there will always be a place for the cosy familiarity that comes with frequenting one of the big chains, better by far is the independent with its individuality, bonhomie and credibility that the big chains can only try to artificially create.

When I first arrived in Brighton and the town was new to me with everywhere yet to be explored I remember sitting in the best of the best independent coffee establishments, the Redroaster and lapping up the atmosphere; with tables of chattering friends, art on the walls, coffee pots along the ceiling, I drank in the general buzz of activity along with my latte.


interior, Redroaster Coffee House
Seven years on and it has lost none of its charm and as with any successful business it all starts at the head, so with that in mind I persuaded the owner Tim to spare me a moment and share with me the story so far.

"I came into the industry with very little experience apart from dish washing experience. Just with the idea I would like to do one product really really well. I knew from one of my partners, my Canadian brother who had provided the initial impetus that in Canada in the early nineties there were a lot of really good coffee places. So we opened up in 1994 and Starbucks was a bit of an inspiration to him at the the time. I had been involved in the graphic art industry but there was an almighty recession going on then and work was becoming increasingly hard to hang on to and so I decided almost on the spur of the moment to change direction and this has been the story ever since.

What I discovered is doing coffee properly is something you can quite easily become quite fanatical about. When we opened in 1994 I think we were way ahead of the average cafe, we were using the espresso machine properly and learning how to do it even better.  At that time the quality of coffee in England was not that good. Even places run by Italians had so adapted themselves to the English market that a cappuccino would not be recognisable today. In those days you’d get a thin layer of foam. Speed is always critical in catering and particularly in a place like Brighton, a tourist destination, where the saying went you could serve them anything and it wouldn’t matter because they wouldn’t come back. It was virtually impossible to get a proper espresso in those days, anything like an Italian espresso now. It was more like a Cafe Americano, even Costa Coffee before it was taken over by Whitbread was double the length it needed to be. And that was absolutely the rule. At the time I’d never really gone into the subject of coffee so when people were saying ‘oh espresso!’ and what was being produced was poor quality I didn’t really know where the excitement was coming from. So I got a good home espresso machine, La Pavoni and started making coffee myself.  I found you could get one or two good books on the subject and I started inventing stuff for myself and that's what we used to come up with our coffee menu.

It's all in the detail, for instance our cafe lattes, I felt was just wrong served in a glass, even though that was the norm, so I started doing it in a cappuccino cup.  Then we learned you shouldn’t use the tamper stuck on the front of a machine grinder but use a hand tamper instead.  Virtually everyone I knew who had an espresso maker laughed at the idea, even an Italian I employed said, No no no we use the tamper! and I said, I don’t think you should and we enforced our rules. Through little refinements like this we got better and better. Back in 1994 I believe the coffee we were making was better than everyone else around us. We quickly found we had a following among people who came from other countries, particularly from Australia where your cafe latte is a flat white. That's when I first found out about flat whites although we didn't put it on the menu people know to ask for it.  It's basically a stronger version of cafe latte, with an extra shot in it. It’s how I personally would have a coffee in the morning.

In 1998 before we moved to our exisiting site I started experimenting with roasting coffee, reading Kenneth Davids, the American writer who put out a book about home coffee roasting and I thought, yeah I can do this. I would profile the roasts I was doing so by the time we came to set up the Redroaster I’d already decided to buy a small in-house coffee roaster and we had decided to work towards becoming a coffee roaster as well as a coffee house. First we were roasting single origin then companies in Brighton started coming to us, like Terre a Terre and later on Infinity Cafe, saying, Can you roast some coffee for us and the roasting grew from there. Finally three and half years ago we decided to invest in a larger roaster and have set up a roasterie in Kemptown for roasting not only all our own coffee but about 40 or fifty whole sale customers as well".

For a full list of blends, events and other details, visit their website, http://www.redroaster.co.uk/home or pop in and see them and try the coffee out for yourself.

1d St James Street
Brighton
BN2 1RE
Tel: 01273 686668