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The Business of the Bean

10 November 2015
The Business of the Bean
Coffee is big business in Leeds and an intrinsic element in the thriving independent scene. Businesses have increasingly more control over the quality and ethos of their products, maintaining a consistency throughout the entire process: sourcing, roasting, retailing and brewing quality coffee, they also promote and cultivate a particular lifestyle. An incredibly important element in this supply chain is therefore the way that these ventures are funded and how the money is used. Looking at various interesting entrepreneurial endeavours in the City, we examine the way that crowdfunding, microfunding and non-profit schemes are facilitating a new approach to the coffee business.

Cielo Coffee House

The Business of the Bean Photography provided by Mew Photos

When Nick and Linda Castle looked into setting up their own coffee shop in Garforth, the business model that suited them the best was one geared towards social enterprise. They aspired to set up a space that was firstly a great quality space where people would feel inclined to drink good coffee and which importantly didn’t feel like a charitable community café. The second important premise was that their staff were there, alongside serving up drinks, to really take time to chat and interact with customers, rather than filling their quota of serving as many customers as possible.

After paying for overheads: bills, rent and so on, Nick and Linda ruminated on the idea that they would then give away the remaining profits to the local community, an option just not available from the bigger businesses.

While it is near on impossible to grow coffee in Leeds (though we have managed a vineyard!), the pair redistribute profits to create a pot of funding, where local groups that contribute and work with the local community can apply to fund an eligible cause (up to £1000 according to Nick). Importantly, this system relies on the democracy amongst the customers who belong to these communities by allowing them to decide which idea is most deserving of funding. ‘‘We worked out it was the simplest way to manage it fairly - a pot is put out once a year, and we just get people to fill out a really simple application form with a bit of info about where they would invest the money into the community - it’s then shortlisted against criteria of community and helping alleviate loneliness and then let the customers have their say’’. Alongside more obvious local causes, Cielo have a real focus on the less obvious social issue of loneliness, whether that be chronic, or something that people find themselves coming in and out of, break ups or perhaps maternity leave; Cielo want to help. Nick emphasises the fact that many might not necessarily think ‘I’m in need’ during these periods, but Cielo really want to be there as a space to lift that weight off, a place to feel comfortable and welcomed.

Serving 90,000 drinks a year across their three cafes in Garforth alone, they operate amongst a very busy community, providing the shop with a constant stream of familiar faces; ‘‘In Garforth, we even open on Christmas morning, even if just for a couple of hours, but we get over 150 people at these things, whether they’re people who just enjoy the community aspect or people who won’t see anyone else on Christmas Day. It’s a very powerful thing to just be there without them feeling singled out as a special case’’. This seems to be a very poignant aspect of what the City Centre shop on Duncan Street is also aiming to achieve. The large Scandinavian-style wooden counter, high stools and very contemporary swinging copper lights provide stylish, attractive surroundings in their own right, reinforcing that those in need can be welcomed into and enjoy a space that doesn’t resemble a crumbling village hall.

The volunteer schemes set up at Cielo also continue this community feel; people are incredibly receptive to the cause, and many readily dedicate their time to hang around and chat whilst serving. They also have volunteers that have learning difficulties, who treat their volunteering as their job: ‘‘They get so much worth out of it too, the opportunity to do something they might not be able to elsewhere''. For the Castle pair, it’s always been about answering the questions: how can we do community better? How can we live better together when our lives are so busy?

Eighteen months ago they also had a special coffee roaster set up, to allow them more integrity over the beans they serve. To Cielo, the supply chain behind the coffee they roast and serve is incredibly important and they ensure that they pay three or four times Fair Trade prices. Roasting in the Garforth shop also provides a bit of a spectacle. There seems to be an increasing desire from customers to understand where their goods are coming from, and the process behind the cup of coffee. This element is possibly more of a bi-product alongside the charitable venture but is nevertheless part and parcel to the experience. The coffee produced is then sold and supplied to various venues around Chapel Allerton and East Leeds, allowing Cielo another source of profit. These specific funds are then directed more internationally, supporting work such as curing clubfoot in Ethiopian children. In the UK this defect is spotted in the womb early on in the pregnancy and dealt with easily but the scarce natal healthcare in Ethiopia means that sufferers are treated as outcasts and are subsequently extremely lonely, meaning they are hot on Cielo’s anti-lonely radar. Visit their new shop on Duncan Street which opens this month or check out their website to get more familiar.

North Star Coffee Roasters

The Business of the Bean Article 1 Photography by Mark Wheelwright

North Star were the first coffee roasters to set up shop in Leeds, meaning they had to really lay on the groundwork to establish themselves and a healthy coffee brewing industry in the City. Krag specialises in roasting the coffee and Holly is the coffee specialist who knows the beans and their unique tastes and capabilities very intimately. Coupled with a friendly, laid back approach, it’s no wonder that they supply to loved and respected venues all over Leeds. They deal singularly in speciality coffee, effectively the best the world has to offer, which only makes up 3% of the world’s coffee production.

What lies at the centre of their ethos is - much like Cielo Coffee - a consistency of quality that transcends across their business model - sourcing, roasting, funding, retailing and ensuring that good quality coffee is brewed in the coffee shops. They’ve become household names around the region for those interested in coffee owing to their astounding Kickstarter efforts, which recently raised just over £20k to fund their brand new coffee grinder. More recently, their successes have been acknowledged and applauded with their win at the Young British Foodie Awards in the Coffee Category. After applying in April and presenting their work in Coffee in July, their triumph in September proved a well-earned result of a fairly drawn out process.

Holly admits they went into the Kickstarter campaign with a little scepticism but after a year into their business they were ready to expand and Kickstarter provided a unique scope for this; ‘‘We didn’t want to have to go to a bank and ask for a huge loan; we liked the fact that Kickstarter is community led, and that it felt genuinely supportive and responsive’’. This type of funding is mutually beneficial to users like North Star and their loyal customers, and sits far more comfortably amongst their general ethos of quality and ethics than perhaps any formal banking method.

This ethos extends to their relationship to the independents they supply, setting a precedent for quality and mindfulness. Holly cites the most fulfilling aspect of their business as working alongside businesses that ‘‘have the impetus to change the way they work for the better’’, taking cue from what North Star exemplify. They are also beginning to offer more coffee training and examinations, again to ensure there is consistency and great coffee is done proper justice. As well as retailing from their unit in Meanwood, which gives people a chance to pop in and have a chat about the products, they sell their coffee online, which offers them a larger scope of styles and flavours.

The coffee on offer, like any good produce, operates on a seasonal basis. Holly, whose training and passion for coffee has developed her sophisticated palate, curates the selection to a concise collection. Around 90% of the range is classed as a ‘single origins coffee’ which can be compared to the idea behind a single malt whisky, whereas opposed to a blend, the coffee is a lot purer. The other 10% is no less good though; rather more a chance to experiment with flavours with often rather adventurous results like a ‘naturally processed Ethiopian’ which, according to Holly tasted like ‘boozy skittles’.

Krag and Holly’s eventual plans are ambitious and exciting; with dreams to follow the process through fully and set up camp with a café, no doubt ensuring the coffee served is as impeccable as their roasting. In the opposite direction but totally in line with their policy of consistency, they also plan to set up a ‘projects of origin’, established to ensure that the communities that grow and harvest the coffee beans right at the start of the supply chain, receive much more benefit from their trade. These communities are, in the main, economically impoverished and often tinged with danger. Holly shows me the machine used to purify the raw coffee beans, removing anything superfluous: dirt, nails and even, alarmingly, bullet casings.

North Star’s recent successes and accolades are certainly testament to a business that benefits from start to finish quality and attention from the bean sourcing to their unusual financial approach, and the flavoursome finish; they show no signs of slowing down. Pop into their unit in Meanwood and find out more on their website

Coffee Shop: North

Coffee Shop: North by Dan Saul Pilgrim Photography by Mark Wheelwright

Dan Saul Pilgrim is also at North Star when we visit. Using the most popular crowd funding platform Kickstarter to back his venture into publishing Dan - equal parts designer and coffee lover - has conceived an art book devoted to the northern coffee industry. Certainly in Leeds there is a specially reserved place for the love and appreciation of the aromatic brew and Dan’s work is an effort to capture the essence of all that is sacred in the process: sourcing and grinding, brewing and serving, drinking and socialising.

What Hop & Barley are doing for beer, Dan Saul Pilgrim is doing with coffee, documenting the different, unique take on the beverage. Dan is himself a frequent visitor of various shops and cafes suiting different moods, or different company. Laynes features prominently in Dan’s Kickstarter video; he praises their attention to detail and laid back approach, Mrs Athas their slightly more London-esque vibe; and of course La Bottega Milanese, expanded from their tiny shop in The Calls to two thriving, Italian run coffee shops located in The Light, and a larger headquarters at Bond Court.

The book is about documenting a moment in history, where the coffee scene has seemingly exploded over just a couple of years. With coffee houses and shops diversifying according to an increasing appetite for multi-purpose venues: art gallery space, events, music, alcohol and food, it is a chance to capture what is increasingly abundant now while a distinguishable line can still be drawn.

The strive for perfection common amongst the more revered baristas is also reflected in Dan’s own approach to production. He wants quality, perhaps reviving the idea of the ‘coffee table book’, a concept which is increasingly synonymous with a kind of façade of education and style that serves little more purpose than aesthetics. Now in a kind of meta-way, Dan is hoping to produce a love letter to coffee that can be appreciated for its visuals and content. His minimal style is incredibly contemporary, and carried through his work for his design studio Logan and Saul (his most recent familiar work is with The Swine That Dines, a small plates conceptual menu by The Greedy Pig). For Dan, the relationship between coffee and aesthetics is one of mutual appreciation, so producing such a publication made perfect sense.

For a nation of tea drinkers, our fidelity to the leaf has been shaken by the emergence of European-quality coffee. Dan’s work doesn’t just document Leeds’ coffee scene, but also, as the name suggests, a general northern demographic, exploring Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and York meaning plenty of coffee pilgrimages are crying out for intrepid explorers.

Dan’s venture ended in sucess when he recently reached his ambitious target of £10,000. Essays, written and photographic run throughout the book covering various curiosities and topics behind what has become a fairly engrained ritual. As Dan increased and varied the ‘rewards’ offered for various amounted pledges, the future of the project, which has only just begun, is an exciting one for all those who have been involved and will be surely reflected in the finished product. ‘‘Above all...the project has been an opportunity to meet new people, see new places and drink more coffee. It was always about these three things!’’ Get the latest on Dan’s project and progress on his Twitter page.

Leeds Soup

The Business of the Bean Article 2

Alongside a lot of increased interest in Kickstarter’s crowd funding facilities, Micro Funding also has an interesting presence in the Leeds Community. Leeds Soup is following in the footsteps of the original Detroit initiative, whereby organisations and businesses geared towards helping the community all deposit an initial small – micro - sum to a communal pot, pitch their potential funding idea which is then voted on and realized through the raised funds, echoing similarly democratic efforts made by Cielo Coffee. Speaking to Tom from Leeds Soup, he explained how the small entry donation encourages more people to take part, thus generating larger funds. One particular success story is the micro funded coffee machine, which came from a pot of £1000 in the pay as you feel café Forage Café, an enterprise led in relation to the various City Junk’tion projects around Leeds. Their aim to ‘intercept waste’ and use it to create delicious and nourishing food exemplifies a worthy cause.

Tom tells us their plans for the next Leeds Soup: ‘‘We’re hoping to beat the money raised, and tickets sold from the last event (around 90). We’re keeping it at the Adelphi Hotel, as they’ve really helped us with event space and setup. The main aim is to keep it accessible and informal, so that anyone can come along, to take part, cast their vote, and socialise with like-minded people. There will be four pitches for local community projects, and each of them is given a set time to set out their stall for the audience and each pitch is followed by a quick Q&A from the audience. Voting (and eating!) commences after the pitches, and after that, the winner is announced. What’s great is that even those who don’t take the pot of money have been able to tell relevant people about their ideas and plans for the local community.’’

If you have a community led project that you think is worthy of funding then you can apply to enter the next Leeds Soup meeting on their Twitter page.

By
Emma is a Freelance Writer for Leeds Living. She has a degree in English literature from the University of Leeds and specialises in writing cultural editorials.