Ben Mitchell trained as a barista in Melbourne. He now runs a speciality coffee shop in Norwich called Artel, which uses Cuppers Choice as their resident roaster. Having developed his love for coffee, Ben enjoys spreading the word of speciality - whether it’s writing an article or brewing for others. Cuppers Choice take pride in their sustainable and ethical coffees. As their mission statement outlines, they "do not want to just be another coffee roasters. We want to stand out for all the right reasons."
I met Jasper a year and a half ago now. I’d just taken over a coffee shop and he was our coffee guy. I was new on the job, still tentatively working my stuff out - and Jasper bounds in, cracking jokes, saying hey to everyone and their mother. Since then, he and three industry friends have set up their own business, entering the national scene in much the same style that Jasper entered my shop that day. Based in Sheffield, Cuppers Choice is a roastery that has been making smooth and delicious coffee waves since it began a year ago.
‘Speciality Coffee’ is a slippery concept. If you wanted to assign a tangible definition to it, you’d say that a coffee is graded as ‘speciality’ when it scores 80 or above on the 100-point Coffee Review Scale. But really, speciality-quality coffee is ensured at each stage of the supply chain. Cuppers source their coffees from farmers who grow only the highest quality arabica beans and handpick only the ripest cherries. Producers will often use experimental processing and then rigorously sort milled beans for defects. It is a labour of attentiveness and innovation - and Cuppers are aware of how much is asked of the speciality coffee farmer. Supporting and cooperating with producers is essential to the speciality industry. Cuppers buy their coffees either directly from farmers or from green bean importers who are carrying out the same work towards ethical sourcing, ensuring fair payment and sustainable trading relationships.
Cuppers source the best coffees; develop clever roasting profiles; ship ‘em off to folk like me; and then make sure that folk like me are extracting all the warmth and depth that my coffee-producing predecessors have ensured will be in the final cup. While it’s nice to get a tick-in-a-box certification, it’s all of these stages that make a cup ‘speciality’. And these guys are all over it, they’ve got it covered.
With 7 new Direct Trade Rwandan coffees soon to be released and the coffee world at their feet, they’ve got a tonne to be excited about.
Who makes up the Cuppers Team? Round the Cupping table, who’s got the loudest slurp and the most decorative and precise taste descriptors? [*Cupping is a way to taste and compare coffees, spoon to mouth, soup style]
Jasper, Jordan, Harley, and Thomas. We are Cuppers. We are all white males aged 28 to 32. None of us have degrees. We're all trying our hardest. Harley is trying even harder, you can hear this in the volume of his slurp. Jordan has the campest decorative descriptors (he's getting into speciality tea). Jasper just likes it or doesn't. Thomas thinks everything is acidic, until he's told it's not (he's in charge of accounts).
What made you want to start Cuppers?
We wanted respect, fame, money, and coffee.
What is the scope of the job of a roaster within the supply chain; and what’s your primary role within Cuppers?
We get to buy coffee, green coffee. Green coffee tastes rubbish, so we turn it brown. When it’s turning brown we have to make sure not to turn it too brown; when we get it just brown enough it tastes nice. When it tastes nice, people will pay good money for it. When people pay good money for it, we can pay producers good money for it. This makes us feel good.
Do you feel you have ever personally encountered elitism within speciality coffee?
Yes, it sneaks in everywhere. The nature of speciality coffee somehow encourages it. By calling our area of the coffee industry ‘speciality’, we are effectively adopting a “holier than thou” stance in order to push our own products. That said, there is no reason why this industry shouldn’t be completely inclusive; it’s important to remember that anyone with an interest can do this, and anyone at all can enjoy it.
You recently had a pop-up. What music was being played?
We only played vinyl, so we all had to bring our selections. Afro compilations and soul albums got the most play. People kept asking us to turn it down. We didn’t play any Bonobo, nobody seemed to mind.
The front window of your recent pop-up read ‘not another coffee shop!?’ - is the Sheffield coffee scene busy?
The scene here isn’t that big really. Every shop in town is a powerhouse with loyal local support - it’s more quality over quantity with definite room for exciting concepts. Basically we got brunch, bread, and a lovely sit-down covered.
What’s your favourite thing about Sheffield outside of coffee?
Cheap rent and trees - loads of trees. Also you can still get a pint of lager for 3 quid.
Your branding and packaging is unique, was it an active choice to separate yourself from a more modern and minimal look?
Minimalism has had its day. People want more, not less - less is rubbish. Jordan thinks less of Jasper everyday.
What’s your best skateboard trick?
- Jasper: Backside kickflip 5-0 on mini ramp probs.
- Jordan: I have M.E. so anything on wheels is a treat for me.
- Thomas: If I wanted ripped trousers I’d buy them from Levi.
- Harley: I don’t have time for this, I’m doing all the serious work.
What was the best coffee you’ve had recently that was not roasted/brewed by you?
We’ve been arguing about answering this question for a while now. The only thing we can agree on is Enciso from Coffee Collective. Crankhouse has a Pink Bourbon that's a total killer. Brexit has ruined Jordan’s European guest offerings, from which we usually pick our favourites.
What do you brew with at home?
V60 is the best. We all have moments of fancy with other brewing methods, but V60, V60, V60. Also, it’s cheap, unlike our grinders, there’s that elitism again.
A few months ago I gave someone their coffee. She goes ‘Is that it? Are you kidding? I could’ve got something double the size for the same price down the road at Costa!’ I wasn’t quick-witted enough to respond with anything other than ‘Oh, well sorry’. What would you have said?
It’s not the size, it’s what you do with it.