Union Coffee 15th Birthday and Book Launch
Back in the 90s co-founders of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia sold most of their possessions to fund buying their first ever roaster, at a time when most of us thought green beans were just part of a high-fibre diet. By 2001, Torz and Macatonia had formed their own roasting company and were travelling out to Rwanda, a country in recovery from the atrocities of genocide, and determined to not only source the highest quality coffee but also help to improve the prospects of the farmers struggling to maintain their livelihoods. 15 years later we’ve been invited to the launch of Torz and Macatonia’s book, Real Fresh Coffee, an introductory guide to everything that goes into a great cup of coffee, and Union, with coffee sold in a wide variety of supermarkets and speciality coffee shops, are one of the biggest players in the UK speciality coffee scene. The night is held in the basement of Waterstones Tottenham Court Road, which has a fully equipped cocktail bar downstairs that’s open till 11pm and serves Jenson’s gin, solid brunch food and, pertinently, Union coffee. Yep, Waterstones are upping their game, big time, and Union are at the forefront of ensuring a bookshop chain can have the firepower to take on online retail outlets. We’re served a choice of two free coffee cocktails. First up is the Irish coffee served by 2015 CIGS UK champion Dave Jameson - a potent creation incorporating a double strength filtered natural catui, a decent hit of 15 year old whiskey and spiked room temperature whipped cream served up cold that went down like some kind of wonderful dive bar dessert; a coke-float Tom Waits might enjoy with a pack of Marlborough Reds. Fully deserving of the accolade of ‘6th best Irish coffee in the world’, as Dave proudly explained. And then for something completely different. Anyone who’s tried cascara has thought, ‘it’s good, but can I put gin in it?’ Well, these guys put gin in it, a double shot, after brewing it with mint and adding elderflower cordial. That one slipped down real easy and would leave many a coffee shop owner weighing up the bureaucracy involved in that alcohol licence they’ve been considering. After a suitable level of liquored-up and caffeine-alertness was achieved, we took our seats to hear the story of how Union Hand-Roasted coffee came to be. People talk a lot about passion projects in this business, but Torz and Macatonia really gave up a lot at a time when specialty coffee simply wasn’t a thing, and their Union Direct Trade initiatives, aiming to train up farmers at origin to understand quality at source and therefore be capable of demanding adequate pricing for their work, feels borne out of genuine compassion. In short, they seem like good blokes who have managed to break into the consumer coffee market and, crucially, are using that position to do some good in the world. They also happen to roast some excellent coffee. We all gladly drank to the next 15 years. Real Fresh Coffee, published by Pavilion Books, will be available in Waterstones and other book stores from today. Aaron Towlson
June 08, 2016 — Best Coffee