Posted on Tuesday 19 January 2010 byUlster Business
We’re cheating slightly here by having two Ones to Watch but giving up your job to follow your passion isn’t something to be taken lightly. David Elliott went to Banbridge to meet Greg Radcliffe and Mark Anderson who run coffee roaster Ristretto.
Ten years ago your chances of getting a good cup of coffee in Northern Ireland were limited. If you were lucky enough to find a café not serving instant coffee, you might be treated to filter coffee of nondescript origin which had been stewing on the stove for most of the day and tasted remarkably like burnt toast and floor sweepings.
Not so any more. The plethora of artisan coffee shops which have sprung up around our shores over the last few years - both home grown and those with a global reach – has been truly phenomenal as our thirst for a good cup of ‘Joe’, as they refer to it in the US, grows. The choices in these establishments are endless; from the most basic element of an espresso – a concentrated shot of coffee produced by forcing hot water at high pressure through ground coffee – to the cappuccino, latte, mocha…the list goes on.
This growth in availability has brought coffee to a much wider audience but while overall the quality of coffee we are drinking has improved, it is still difficult to get a premium cup of coffee on the high street. This has meant some coffee lovers have been willing to go to extremes for the perfect brew. This reporter is a member of this specialist group – known by disinterested friends and family as coffee bores - and has been known to go to great lengths to source espresso beans from a favourite Covent Garden roaster. This hasn’t been easy and has involved great expense and inconvenience on my part (not to mention derision from a friend whose whole family won’t hear a bad word said against the Nespresso machine) so imagine my delight when I found out a company in Banbridge were roasting coffee which - dare I say it - was better?
Gregg Radcliffe and Mark Anderson set up Ristretto four years ago to supply freshly roasted speciality coffee to restaurants and cafes where coffee is, in their own words, taken very seriously. The seriousness with which Gregg and Mark take their coffee was demonstrated by the fact both of them gave up jobs in the IT industry – for AMT Sybex and Sysco Software respectively – to follow their dream of improving the standard of coffee in Northern Ireland.
“Being in very well paid, secure jobs with pensions and health care, our motivation for forming Risretto was definitely not money orientated,” Greg said. “Instead, we felt we could make a change for the better in the coffee industry by providing higher quality, freshly roasted coffee and back up unrivalled in the industry.”
A visit by Ulster Business was obviously essential to gauge if Risretto really was the crema of the crop (you bores will get that one); that and the fact a 30-mile drive is obviously nothing when you’ve been sourcing coffee from a different country for the last couple of years.
Despite arriving late after a number of overrun meetings and the requisite number of wrong turns, I was cheerily greeted by Greg at what looked like a nondescript industrial unit from the outside but which turned out to be a master roasting and tasting room on the inside.
With initial formalities over, and probably sensing my intentionally caffeine-free stare, we got on to the tasting. We cupped – steady now, it’s a formal term for tasting in the coffee world – brews from Nigeria and Malawi, two very different coffees whose individual attributes stand out when compared side by side. Not that coffees need to come from different countries to taste markedly different; variety, soil type, weather, aspect and many other differentials all go into the mixing bowl to create a coffee’s signature taste, but I digress.
We then moved onto tasting Ristretto’s espresso blend – by this stage the caffeine-free stare had long since passed, soon to be replaced by a caffeine-frenzied stare – and boy did it deliver. After tasting a couple of these it came as little surprise to learn the company was one of only six roasters in the UK and Ireland to receive two gold stars for their espresso blend at the 2009 Great Taste Awards organised by the Guild of Fine Food. Ristretto also picked up one gold star for its Costa Rica Reserva San Boco filter coffee at the awards.
While awards are all very well, there’s nothing like having a big name fan base and it says a lot about Ristretto that Michael Deane chose the company to supply coffee and related machinery (Ristretto also supply Rancilio espresso machines and grinders to his restaurants). Here’s what he had to say: “It was exciting to find like-minded people who are just as passionate about coffee as we are about food.”
The passion Ristretto hold for coffee is even more evident when Greg shows me the roasting room where the real magic happens. Sacks of green coffee are stacked along the wall from all corners of the coffee-growing world while used sacks adorn the walls in a shrine to some of the best beans to pass through the doors. Roasting basically involves putting the green beans in a machine not dissimilar to a washing machine consisting of a slowly revolving side-mounted drum with a gas flame underneath. However, this machine comes from Italy, a country not known for overlooking aesthetics and you can be assured it doesn’t look like a washing machine.
After an amount of time and heat these expert roasters seem to judge with an extra sense which only comes with experience, patience and a connoisseur’s touch, beans destined for filter coffee are released to be cooled - Espresso beans undergo a secondary roasting process - before being either bagged as whole beans or ground and bagged.
As this article hits the shelves, Mark and Greg will probably be in Guatemala on a sourcing mission to ensure Ristretto maintains the reputation for quality it has already picked up. Going all that way to source your coffee beans shows real commitment and, having discovered this premium roaster was literally round the corner and has a website where coffee can be ordered for delivery, there’s no need for Northern Ireland’s coffee drinkers to go to the ends of the earth to get a good cup of coffee.