At Forster Inc, we love hearing about local success stories, and the story of East London coffee roasters The Roasting Shed is one of our favourites. From their beginnings in a shed in the back garden to a full roastery and espresso bar in Hackney Wick, these guys have seen incredible growth in just a couple of years. For our November #CoffeeMonth campaign, we sat down with co-owner Neil Coyle to talk about humble beginnings, creative interiors and exciting futures.
Forster Inc: Hi Neil. Tell us a bit more about the story of The Roasting Shed. How did it begin? What was your guys’ journey here?
Neil Coyle: It began with Ricardo’s dream of bringing his Colombian relatives’ and friends’ coffee over form Colombia. He saw the rise of speciality coffee here and the increasing quality on the other end, as well as farmers moving towards more premium product.
He then did a roasting course with the London School of Coffee, [after which} he took the jump and bought a roaster. He didn’t really have anywhere to put it, so he put it in the house that he shared with his partner, Esther.
FINC: How did they move from roaster in the house to The Roasting Shed?
NC: Roasting is a process that can be a bit dusty and smoky without proper extraction. So immediately, they decided to move the roaster to the back garden. Their first idea was [to run the business in] a shed, so they built a very small shed and painted it a turquoise blue colour. It became the Roasting Shed, and the name of the business came very naturally after that.
FINC: When did you get involved?
NC: Around about the same time in 2013, I was in Guatemala. I moved there with my partner, and I was doing a bit of charity work out there. I was always into coffee, and I was becoming more and more discerning about what I was drinking.
Before I moved to Guatemala, I was seeing the rise of independents and good roasters. I met a few people in Guatemala who were exporting coffee to America. They introduced me to some of the best farmers, roasters and coffee shops in Guatemala. I went and did some of the courses at the National Coffee Association in roasting, sourcing green coffee, barista skills and running a coffee shop.
FINC: How did you end up joining forces with Ricardo then?
NC: [When I returned to London] I ran a couple of coffee shops, learning the customer-facing trade. I then decided it was roasting that I wanted to do. I was always being approached by independent roasters and so I often paid them visits and did a lot of cupping with them. I decided to contact Ricardo, and I asked to come around and visit. We started roasting together. He suggested he’d teach me more about what he’d learned, and I could work for him a couple of days a week. We did that for 6 months. [After this time] it just seemed a logical thing for us to work together.
By 2014, I quit my job [and joined The Roasting Shed].
FINC: That must have been a big move for you at the time.
NC: It was a scary move [to do] when you’re in your thirties. At the same time, it’s also a good time to do it. You have enough wisdom to make something work, but you’re also young and stupid enough to take risks.
FINC: What was it like at the beginning of joining The Roasting Shed?
NC: When you start, it doesn’t matter how good your product is: people go on reputation. It’s very much a case of when you have a few good clients behind you, people start to trust you.
From then, it’s grown and grown. We built a bigger shed, got a bigger roaster, and then the next logical step for us was to get a bigger property, then again bigger machinery… and it goes on and on.
FINC: And now you’re in a yard in Hackney Wick. What made you choose to locate here?
NC: Well for one, it’s local to the original roasting shed. We were always aware of this area, although we initially didn’t want to come near it, as there was another roaster here. It sort of didn’t seem like the right sort of place. In hindsight, we were wrong.
But then we contacted the owners of Crate Brewery, and it was perfect timing really. The roasting space became available, and they were trying to build a mixed community garage of food and drink producers, with a retail side – where there would be products, coffee, drink, food, etc. on offer for events. So we decided to move in with them.
The rest is history.
FINC: You’ve recently expanded into having an espresso bar. Why did you guys decide to go in this direction?
NC: We were roasting [in Hackney Wick] for about 3-4 months at this point, and we had the space to build something else. We decided we wanted an espresso bar, where we weren’t confusing things or offering too many other things.
We don’t serve tea; we don’t serve chocolate; we don’t serve pastries; we don’t serve sandwiches. We just do coffee. It’s what we know, it’s what we’ve learned about and it’s what we’re good at. And there are other places where you can go to get those other things.
FINC: Have you found this approach limits you, or have you found issue with much competition in the area?
NC: There are other coffee shops in the area. In fact, we go to them when we want lunch or when we want cake! However, the retail side of things have never been the main driver for us. It’s absolutely amazing to have constant feedback from the local community, and to be a part of something in this area – but having something more its not a main priority for us.
FINC: Okay, but can we expect more Roasting Shed cafes in London?
NC: In London, it’s often about space: [finding] the right place to do it, if you can find property that’s affordable. So many high streets change so rapidly, where the property values can go so high and the premiums that are involved. The reality is, the only people who can afford them [the premiums] in the end are your big chains.
For a small independent, choosing where you can go and what you can afford [is tricky].
So yes, I think eventually we will open a coffee shop, or maybe even two. But for us, our focus has always been sourcing the best coffee we can find, roasting it as best as we can, and working with people whom really love coffee.
FINC: How did you decide on the interiors of your espresso bar and roasting office? Was choosing the interior an important consideration?
NC: We came from a shed. It was quite “woody”, as sheds generally are! But it actually was a great environment for us and for what were doing. We didn’t want to move it too far away from that. So we decided to design the espresso bar to look a bit like the inside of a shed. That was Esther’s design; she had seen similar things and worked different ideas together. We decided on black tiles for the bar to finish it off quite cleanly.
[The espresso bar design] was quite important because, at that stage, we became public. Now that we’re in a public space, customers visit us, clients now come around, baristas come around and the warehouse fills out with hundreds of people. The bar is our ‘shop window.’ We wanted it to represent us in a visual way.
FINC. I’d like to end the interview with some quick-fire favourites…..
NC: This is going to be hard. These are really difficult questions for me. Even the coffee ones are difficult! I’m the sort of person that walks into a bar, and I want to taste everything on offer, and they’re all my favourite. All coffees are my favourite. I don’t have favourites!
FINC: Don’t worry, take your time answering…baby steps…
1. Coffee drink?
Filter –V60, pour over filter. In general, we have to drink everything and… Sorry, this isn’t very quick fire, is it?
Milk in the morning, black in the afternoon, but filter generally.
2. Coffee roast?
Yeah, I think at the moment the way we roast the Kenyan Gicherori is pretty spot on. And as a filter, it’s like Ribena. It’s a great coffee. But it is actually all gone now (eek).
3. Song to karaoke to?
I don’t karaoke actually! *laughs*
4. Film to watch on a rainy night?
I really don’t watch a lot films at the moment. I’ve been watching a lot of series. Game of Thrones is pretty awesome. The Walking Dead is on at the moment, and it’s great
5. Country you’ve visited?
It’s hard to choose! Ok…Guatemala.
6. Fun fact about yourself?
I used to play music. I was a musician, for a long while. I’ve had many jobs. I’m an engineer. I was a musician. A music producer. A recording technician. A teacher.
7. Life lesson you’ve learned?
Probably something I’m not very good at – and it’s quite important – is patience. I don’t have a lot of patience. I want everything to happen yesterday. From the outside, our business is fast and expanding. And if I stand back, I see that it is – but I want it faster.
Patience does come; if you focus on one thing, everything else falls into place. But I’m quite impatient. I want the future to happen now.
Visit The Roasting Shed at Mick’s Garage, 8 Queen’s Yard, Hackney Wick, London E9 5EN