It’s a natural progression for a specialty coffee shop to move into roasting their own. It makes sense financially and from a quality control perspective: no matter how good your supplier might be, of course you think you can do better yourself. Furthermore, you always want to have more control over your product, as well as the larger supply chain. It makes sense.
The downside is that a lot of people think the act itself involves nothing more difficult than “get green coffee, put it into a roaster, wait a bit, check Instagram, and boom - perfect roasted coffee”.
Of course the reality is nothing like that. Coffee roasting takes a long time to master (some would say you never truly master it), it involves extreme concentration and attention to detail, and on the most basic level it’s a hot, stressful, tiring and occasionally boring job. And it is extremely easy to do badly.
Luckily for Scotland in general and Glasgow in particular (and me in even more particular), Avenue Coffee Roasting Company seem to have done it right. Beginning life as a regular ol’ coffee shop in 2011, they moved into roasting only recently when a new location meant space opened up for a Diedrich IR-12 (an excellent choice).
As they say on their website, “It wasn’t enough for us just to be making good coffee – we always wanted to have more influence on what was happening to our beans further up the line. We wanted to share our coffee with even more people ... We spent time meticulously profiling coffee beans and were inspired by the results – which we now bring to you.”
Less than a mile apart either side of the University of Glasgow, Avenue’s two cafes also ensure that the West End stays sufficiently caffeinated.
Onwards to the beans. I think I’ve mentioned before how big a fan I am of natural-processed Ethiopians. It was a natural Sidamo that first turned me onto specialty coffee, encountered one morning in a certain coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Natural Ethiopians are deliciously weird, funky and often taste like blueberry pie - what’s not to love?
Avenue’s version is from the Kochere district in Yirgacheffe, probably the most well-known coffee growing region in Ethiopia (if not the world). You never know exactly what you’re going to get with coffee from this locale. Ethiopia, being the birthplace of coffee and all, contains over a thousand native varietals, whereas most countries grow one or two. A coffee from Jardin in Colombia will probably taste, on a basic level, quite similar to one from Nariño in the same country; with Ethiopia, due to the genetic diversity, the flavour possibilities are almost endless and consistently unique.
This particular coffee arrives in a black stand-up pouch, a popular choice with roasters these days if my very small and wildly unscientific study is to be believed.
The dry fragrance is certainly potent, with a dominant note of freshly popped salted popcorn and undertones of red grape.
In the cup it tastes like a chocolate covered strawberry, juicy and sweet with a marked depth and clarity. A heavy body and rich, digestive biscuit-esque notes towards the end round things out nicely.
There’s a hint of the delicate brightness and florality that denotes the best washed Ethiopians, but it is transcended by that pleasingly baked-good heaviness which the natural process imbues.
Avenue’s move into roasting was obviously the correct one, and it’s good to see a coffee company taking care to treat the art of roasting as just that: an art.
It’s all too easy to take a superficial approach to the process, in it merely for the Instagram photos and whatever street cred can be gained from being able to say, Yes, we roast our own. It’s harder to take the time to learn the craft and master it going forward.
By taking care to do just that, Avenue have set themselves up for the future. Scotland needs more quality-focused, ethical and fundamentally conscientious businesses - and roasters in particular. We’re doing pretty well so far, but there are just so many cafes in need of a proper supply to ensure that specialty coffee spreads to as many people as possible.
Based on this delicious Ethiopia Kochere, Avenue is going to have a lot of success.