Coffee and interview with Andrew Tolley
Andrew, Laura and Nick Tolley founded Taylor St Baristas in 2006, initially serving coffee from inside Source, a wholefoods store and Deli by Richmond Station. They have gone on to become one of the UK’s leading speciality coffee companies with coffeeshops across the City of London and Shoreditch, Mayfair and now New York! Taylor St have just begun roasting coffee and have designed innovative packaging to fit mail subscription deliveries through your door. We caught up with Andrew to chat coffee not long after the opening of their Chancery Lane cafe… LBC: How did you first get into coffee? AT: I never consciously realised I was into coffee until other people told me. I used to drink coffee mostly for the pharmaceutical benefits, and yes this means instant, and some pretty poor coffees. But once I had my first really good flat white from a cafe, I was properly hooked on the good stuff. This was in Sydney in 2002. I had no idea what made it good, but saw a strong correlation between a particular barista and getting a good coffee from that particular cafe. I then started to notice other good cafes and looked for trends such as roasters, baristas, machines. It is great that this same story is mirrored globally now. LBC: Where did the idea come from to open in Source in Richmond? AT: We had no money and no credit as we were three Australians who were barely allowed to open a bank account in the UK, let alone borrow cash (which is fair enough ;) ). The idea was therefore born out of necessity, practicality and a little inspired genius on the part of my brother Nick. Essentially, we opened a speciality coffee concession in what was at the time a premium deli. The concept was that we would serve coffee so good people would want to come back every day. This would benefit the deli as we were building loyal and regular custom who were then exposed to their products more frequently and would therefore end up buying items there more often. We also paid a fixed and turnover rent. It was synergistic though- we got into a premium High St location in Richmond where we were paying well under the market rate for our space, with comparatively little risk. Luckily it worked. It was 2006 and we had no idea if people would come in for low temperature milky coffees that 3 random Australians were calling flat whites. It was risky for us at the time as we were throwing all of the little resources we had at the business. My sister Laura and I would open the shop and work from 7 until 10 or so. Then we would go to second jobs while Nick would come in and do a long, but quieter shift. We were able to build the business and still have friends from 10 years ago. LBC: Where did you drink coffee when you first came to London? AT: One of the reasons we opened Taylor St Baristas is because we couldn't find anywhere to drink good coffee. It was 2005 when we first moved into London. I was searching for cafes that used names like "barista". Nick and I ended up at some dodgy cafes using this strategy. We'd make a trek to a far flung corner of London only to be disappointed by the tarry brew we were greeted with. Flat white opened late 2005 and we had already hatched the plan to open Taylor St. We were actually worried that there wouldn't be a big enough market for both of us. Irrespective of this naivety it was awesome to have that coffee. We then found Monmouth. Two great oases in the London coffee desert at the time. LBC: And now? AT: Disappointingly few places, but this is only because I don't get out much. I am sure there are many cracking cafes in London I haven't been able to visit. My long term regular cafes often involve friends (who also make great coffee) Prufrock & Dose from the old days. I also really enjoy Esters in Stoke Newington which is everything I want in a local cafe. LBC: And now your roasting...How did you choose Jamie as head roaster, he seems a great match as a roaster? AT: Roasting is a new, logical and somewhat predictable step for us. We maintained for many years that we were a cafe business and would focus on doing that well. Barista training, quality coffee, food and the overall cafe experience underwritten by great customer service from friendly people are a complex series of variables to get right in a cafe. With 10 years experience and 10 cafes though, we are ready to take on more responsibility. However we also know our limitations. Roasting is a very different business and needs to be treated as such. This is where Jamie comes in. He has a broad experience of the speciality industry working in many of the critical roles that give him what I believe is a unique perspective on coffee. He has been around coffee since 2000, so long enough to see trends starting to repeat. He has been exposed to varying coffee qualities from commercial to really high scoring speciality giving a deeper insight into quality but also the operational experience for delivering consistency. With Jamie on board, we can now get hold of some really interesting coffees and have total control over the development of the coffees from roaster to cup. This will be enhanced under the watchful and very experienced eyes of our new head of coffee training Diana Johnston Ledezma. I am excited about competitions this year as we will be supporting our baristas with some great coffees. Next year we will be heading to various origins to look for more outstanding coffees. LBC: Jamie writes notes on the coffee bag like extensive LP liner notes from the 60s... AT: Jamie has a “creative” mind. His first 2 blends were flipped in ratios and called 75/25 what's my number and 25/75 what's my number. Only one person in the 90 or so people in Taylor St got the reference. LBC: And the decision to categorize the roasts into three categories almost like the 'comfort' and 'adventure' labels Handsome experimented with? AT: We categorise our coffees into 3 flavour profiles which is an attempt to distil the complexity of 100s of flavours into something meaningful, comprehensible and hopefully enjoyable. Our guest coffee program has never been a commercial success, although it does keep the baristas happy. It was frustrating to have all of these amazing coffees available but not have our customers excited or inspired to drink them. I had a hunch this was because of 3 things. Firstly, most origin names and the flavours we give them don't correspond to the popular conception of coffee. Secondly, we were inconsistent in our service - jumping from a natural Ethiopia to washed Guatemala with no warning. Finally the challenge of describing and promoting all these coffees every time we changed them was too great for both people working and for our customers to take in. At 8am in the city, people mostly just want a coffee. So we debated extensively and came up with 3 names to describe the 3 broad families of coffee flavours – ‘Classic’ - coffees that taste like coffee, ‘Delicate’ - the desert island coffee of the coffee geek, and ‘Wild’ - coffees that don't taste like coffee. These three profiles are always available in the cafes, customers can walk up to the filter coffee stand, sample the different brews and then buy the coffee they like. It reduces the risk of buying a random coffee you know nothing about. This is important when you are investing money in the only thing that is pretty much guaranteed to improve your day.