Byline: JENNY LINFORD
NEXT time you sip an espresso, take a moment to think about what went into making your drink. The barista who creates your cappuccino is but the last in a long chain of production.
Two men who know more than most about the process of transforming green coffee beans into that heady, addictive, caffeine-rich brew we call coffee are Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia of Union Coffee Roasters.
Having learned their trade in California, Jeremy and Steven set up a small London-based roastery in the early 1990s, producing top quality, hand-roasted coffee.
As business expanded, they teamed up with the Seattle Coffee Company and were then bought by Starbucks, which gave them an insight into corporate life.
Now, however, they are returning to their roots as artisan coffee-roasters.
At their gleaming new roastery in London's Docklands, they set about, in Jeremy's words, "the wonderfully touchyfeely business of coffee roasting".
Sourcing good-quality coffee beans is the first step of their business. No Robusta beans are used, only top-grade Arabica.
The two men travel extensively in Latin America and Africa in search of quality coffee, but growers are experiencing a crisis, with coffee selling on the commodities market for less than the cost of production.
Jeremy and Steven, keen not to exploit workers, are offering premium prices to growers who produce what they want.
"We're trying to find the small farms that grow outstanding coffee and offer them more than the cost of production. We want to work for the future of coffee," explains Steven.
The Union Coffee Roasters specialise in seriously darkroasted coffee.
"Some dark roasts have a charred flavour, but when you've got good-quality raw ingredients," says Jeremy, "you get a fullness of flavour with a dark roast."
Whereas a light roast creates an acidic coffee, Jeremy and Steven believe a dark roast produces rich, full-bodied, flavourful coffee and brings out the sweetness.
The roasting of the beans takes place in a large hangar filled with sacks of coffee, packing machines and huge roasters complete with an impressive Heath Robinson array of pipes, flues, conveyor belts and hoppers.
"There are computers which you can set to roast coffee, but we do it ourselves by hand," explains Steven.
The green beans are poured into a preheated roasting drum where they are tossed and turned over a high heat.
Steven monitors the process, drawing out samples of the beans during roasting to check colour and scent. At first, the beans turn a straw colour, releasing a yeasty scent, then a barrage of small pops can be heard from inside the drum.
"This is first crack," explains Steven. "All the moisture has been driven from the beans and they're expanding."
From this stage, Steven constantly checks the beans, which are now turning dark brown and releasing a recognisable coffee aroma.
Steven continues to roast the beans, taking them to "second crack" and producing a very dark roast.
At this stage, timing is a matter of seconds. It's here that Steven and Jeremy's experience at judging the roasting stages comes into its own.
The instant Steven judges them to be ready, he releases the beans onto a tray to cool them quickly, allowing any volatile oils which have come to the surface to return inside the beans. …