Coffee and interview with Pact's Will Corby
Pact Coffee has come a long way in just a few short years. Starting in 2012 as YourGrind, the subscription coffee company saw an opening in the market and sought to fill the enormous gap between supermarket and speciality coffee. In the last year, the company hired a bonafide coffee expert in Will Corby, and began roasting in-house on a 70kg batch capacity Loring Roaster. We sit down with Will to discuss Pact’s place in the market, their new limited edition range of coffees and their forthcoming espresso capsules.
For those who haven't tried Pact, enter promo code LBC15 to get your first bag for £1 from their website.
LBC: Will, tell us about your background before you came to Pact.
Will: I’ve been in the coffee industry for 10 years now. I starting out selling espresso beans to coffee shops around Cardiff (where I grew up) and then learning how to use espresso machines and competing in the UK Barista Championships. In 2011 I joined Mercanta, the speciality coffee merchants, and became a green coffee buyer, eventually leading their UK Sales and Espresso Blend Development. I was excited to get the opportunity to visit coffee farmers at origin.
LBC: And what do you do at Pact?
Will: I’m Head of Coffee and my role involves building relationships with coffee producers and picking out the very best coffees from around the world. I organise all our shipping and importing and work closely with our roaster Aissa to develop roast profiles that retain all the natural sweetness and interesting flavour characteristics of the coffee. I manage our grind sizes and come up with the taste notes we put on our bags. These represent a general roundup of all my tasting notes and I make sure to express them in a really accessible way - so for example our recent Brazilian pulped natural Platano is described as ‘Malt Milk Chocolate Shake’.
LBC: So, who does Pact target? Who are your ideal customers?
Will: Well one of the biggest reasons I joined Pact is because I believe we can actually drive instant coffee drinkers in the direction of speciality coffee. It will grow the speciality market as a whole and start to introduce millions of people to speciality coffee for the first time. The knock-on effect is greater demand for speciality coffee at origin which directly impacts people’s lives there. Pact aims to offer a selection of coffee that anybody on their own personal coffee journey can enjoy. As you get into speciality coffee you might enjoy lower acidity, more full bodied and familiar flavours like the chocolatey Brazilians we have, but we also make sure to sell coffees with more developed fruit flavours and higher levels of acidity. Our coffees change regularly and I’m confident that we always have something to suit people’s tastes.
LBC: With Pact’s V60 promotions, you have managed to convert a large number of people to filter coffee. What percentage of Pact’s sales are filter, rather than espresso beans?
Will: I'm not sure of the exact figures but I think at least 4 in 5 of our customers are now using brew methods other than espresso and it’s been exciting to see the numbers increasing. Our V60 promotions have been good for anyone who doesn't already have a chosen brew method at home or who is looking to experiment a bit.
LBC: Do you see Pact as a bridge, helping people move from crap coffee to speciality? If so, is there a risk that Pact's customers will move on to other speciality roasters?
Will: I think we are picking coffees that are accessible to people but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting to those with more developed tastes. Like I said, while people often experience desires for different things as they go through their own coffee journey I think we can cater to anyone on that journey. We’re regularly rotating the coffees on the website and helping to guide people into different origins, farms, processing methods etc. so they can find out what they like the best.
LBC: Pact was originally using coffee roasted by the respected Herefordshire-based roaster James Gourmet. What made you decide to start roasting on your own?
Will: Freshness is very important at Pact and we always want to roast, pack and send out the coffee as quickly as possible. Roasting in-house makes a lot more sense logistically than sending it from London to Herefordshire and back again. We decided to invest heavily in training up Aissa and getting a really top-notch roaster. Peter James from James Gourmet was kind enough to help us a lot with that and I’m glad to say he is still on board helping me out and sharing his fantastic roasting expertise.
LBC: Tell us about the new limited edition range of coffees. Are there any that you are particularly excited about?
Will: I’m excited about them all! Pact reached a certain size as a business where it didn’t make any sense to put small lots of coffee on the website so I started having to walk away from smaller deals with farmers even when their coffee was amazing. It was a frustrating situation. I’m glad the Limited Edition project means we can now give them a place. There’s a farm I visited in Colombia on a recent trip and they only produce five bags of speciality coffee a year. I was able to buy that as a Pact Limited Edition coffee and they got a really good price for it.
LBC: What’s the story with Pact’s new espresso capsules? Do they genuinely produce good espresso? Is Clooney going to be out of a job soon?
Will: Yes! We think Pact's new Nespresso-compatible capsule (currently in testing) produces the best Nespresso out there and it’s going to be one of the first speciality coffee capsules available. It was decided internally that we were not going to sell something I was not personally happy with. Capsules are a convenient way to make a decent espresso type coffee but given the limitations of the format it's never going to be better than a proper espresso set-up. It’s taken us months and months but I think we are there now. It’s pretty exciting.
LBC: Do you still set up your cart on the weekends in Cardiff? Whose beans do you normally serve?
Will: I do still man it regularly and I will often use it as a testing bed for Pact’s new espresso blends. It’s a good way to check they are going to taste really good. Occasionally I’ll also buy some green and roast a small batch to use.
LBC: Where do you see speciality coffee heading in five, ten years?
Will: I think people will begin to understand that speciality coffee is a real route to sustainability in terms of coffee production. Paying a coffee producer based on the cup quality directly impacts the way they will grow their coffee and the way they will pick and process it. It’s a job for skilled labour that will be paid well because of it. I hope people buying coffee in the UK will realise this is a good reason to buy speciality coffee, not just because it tastes great, but also because of the benefit it can have to farmers lives at origin.
Find Will on Twitter @TheCaffeineKid
Want to try out Pact Coffee? Try a bag for just £1 by entering the code ‘LBC15’ at checkout at www.pactcoffee.com (this is only available to new customers, and a UK address is required).