Bristol is a city fuelled by coffee. Whether swinging by Hart’s Bakery with a couple of close pals, or bumping into the Chai Guy on your morning commute, Bristol is an inspirational hub of exciting, innovative and unique coffee vendors. We’ve all encounter the beaming barista, the coffee connoisseur, who carefully crafts a rich coffee before our very eyes. But it’s not very often we get to look deeper into that cup. So we gave it a go; we pushed the barista aside and headed to Extract Coffee Roasters in St. Werburghs, winners of UKBC Cup Tasting 2011 and coffee bean suppliers throughout Bristol, to hear what Ashlee Quinn had to say about the Bristol coffee scene from a roasters perspective.
Hey Ashlee, how’s it going? Very well thanks!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Have you always lived in Bristol or is it a relatively new home? I lived north of Bristol, somewhere between here and Gloucester. I have never actually lived in Bristol until now, so when I moved back here after university I was unsure whether or not that was a failure to be moving back. Actually being back in Bristol is very nice, it’s like the city I never knew properly. It’s worked out well.
Were you interested in coffee from an early age or did the job just come up and you took it? I wasn’t interested in coffee and didn’t know massive amounts about it. I had a few part-time cafe jobs to make money in which there was little to no emphasis on coffee. Then I moved to Canada for a year, I just wanted to travel and live in a different place. I went to Vancouver and had a wicked time but needed a job to sustain myself, so I literally handed out my CVs everywhere and ended up getting a job in a cafe that served Stumptown Coffee, a well known coffee roaster based out of Portland. They’re huge and really influential – what extract could dream to be in 10 years time! I wasn’t allowed to make a cup of coffee in the cafe for the first 6 weeks so had to be a barback for a barista and do all the leg work. However, I got to go to the roaster and have a tour round which was really exciting and got training from their representatives in Vancouver. I fell in love with the product and the emphasis they put on everything. I really enjoyed my job and made the rest of my time in North America a coffee tour basically, a pilgrimage, and visited a bunch of really cool cafes. When I came back to England, I was desperately looking for a job in the coffee industry and almost resigned myself to move to London. Luckily, my mum told me she went out to Iron Acton and bought some coffee from a place out of there and encouraged me to email them. I got the job and meant I could stay here, in Bristol!
Did you intend to start to work on the service side of the industry rather than the roastery? It seems a slightly strange one to go straight towards the grass roots so to speak, was it easy enough to convince you that you were better suited to this side? I think I am better suited to this but I miss that gratification you get working on the front line. At Extract we get many visitors coming for workshops and training or even coming in off the street. That’s really nice because you get a bit of the service side back, but working in a cafe is still very different to serving in Extract. When people come here and talk about coffee, they are really open and already quite nerdy, whereas in cafes you have to inform people about the taste and get them engaged. Saying that, most people who end up in roastery have worked the service side of the job which is great as we’re constantly working with baristas and that relationship wouldn’t work as well if we didn’t understand their jobs.
Would you ever be tempted to have your own shop? I don’t know really. I used to think I wanted to have my own cafe as I’m sure everyone who has got into coffee wants to! But being on this side of the business we see how few people do it right – it seems really hard to have that unique idea that makes you stand out. Bristol has a pretty good new thriving coffee scene so I would never really be paving the way as there are loads of people that are doing it. A lot of my focus is actually getting closer to the product itself and being a roaster is only really the middle step – I want to understand the origins of the coffee and what impact that has, potentially going out to visit farms and deciding what coffees we get.
If you’re not having a coffee here, whereabouts do you head for a coffee in Bristol? I’m going to say Full Court Press, though I’m sure everyone says that. I like how they rotate their coffees and do roasters take-overs and how they get coffee from outside the UK – I guess it’s just pushing the boundaries and trying to stand out though it’s certainly not for everyone. Matt’s doing it because he loves it which is pretty cool. Didn’t You Do Well and Small St. Espresso are also great places although I can never get a seat! Bakers and Co. as well (who also do great food) do single origin coffees which they rotate on a 3 month basis.
Coffee has only really been part of British culture in the last 20 years thanks to the big chains. Starbucks has recently shut down on Park Street so do you feel that the artisans are fighting back? People’s attitude towards their coffee ritual is interesting. I think when you’re visiting other cities and you see the chains you realise that they’re reliable and consistent to a degree, but if you seek the independents you see more of a city, which is nice. For instance, if you go to Boston Tea Party you get something that’s intrinsically Bristol: it’s a local chain serving local produce that have been there a long time. It tells you more about the city that you are in. I think the specialty coffee scene will start to encroach on the big chains and it should – but at the same time the specialty coffee scene has been helped by Starbucks due to the leg work they’ve put in to making people interested and engaged with coffee.
You supply a lot of places across Bristol such as BTP, Hart’s Bakery & the Chai Guy but could Extract go further than just Bristol and the South West? Even international, perhaps? I think Extract definitely has national possibilities in terms of how much we can roast, especially with our bigger roaster, Betty, our 1955 cast iron vintage drum roaster. With the workshops that we offer, there’s certainly potential to make it a coffee destination since people have already headed down from places like Birmingham and further afield. In fact, I think I’m the only Bristolian working here so there’s already a lot of influence from a wider net of places.
What has been your favourite coffee roast you have ever done? Anything stand out? When I first started we had a Kenyan coffee called the Makwa which is the most money we’ve ever spent on a coffee! In terms of the green price (before roasting) it was a big deal for a small roastery at the time, but it was mind blowing coffee! It was sweet and bright and worked any way you brewed it.
Do you think Extract should focus on the workshops and educating people as interest grows in home-brewing? I think it’s hugely important and it’s something we have just started to do, so I don’t think we have realised the full potential of this yet. We had the idea to test the waters for a couple of months in the summer and now it’s becoming so popular that we’re having to turn people away! It seems that the home coffee scene is totally saturated with pre-made pods of ground coffee. A few people grab themselves an espresso machine, but they’re ridiculously expensive and are high maintenance for your one cup of coffee a day. Personally, I think that filter coffee is the way forward at home. There’s this whole world of filter equipment which is really good and cheap and available to everyone. People come here wanting to pour latte art out of their espresso machines and it’s never going to be what it’s like in the coffee shops. It’s very rewarding showing people that they don’t have to spend a fortune at home to make a nice cup of coffee, or buy into fads. You can show them something amazing with same filter paper and a ceramic cone; my passion is that side of the coffee.
Do you have a lot of equipment at home yourself? I have a Chemex, a pour over, an aeropress and a cafetiere, but I don’t really have an interest in owning an espresso machine myself. Personally, I prefer to go out for coffee. I want to go to the coffee shop, I want someone to make it for me. At Extract, I face coffee all day everyday so it’s nice to go to a cafe environment and see a different side to the cup. I stress to people who come to the workshops to go to coffee shops rather than trying to make the perfect espresso at home.
Where do you go when you eat out in Bristol? Bristol is so exciting in terms of its food scene! The best place I’ve been recently is the Birch, a small kind of front room. There is only 8 tables, it’s great! The food is excellent, with good drink and service. It also doesn’t cost the earth, which is always a bonus! I had a coffee too. Since they don’t have an espresso machine, they serve little cafetieres at your table which is pretty cool. In the day time, I like Katie and Kim’s. The atmosphere is awesome; it’s refreshing to sit there and feel like you’re sitting in their kitchen.
Keep your eyes out for Extract Beans served all across Bristol. Want to find out more about the Extract Coffee team? Head on over to their website, or give them a like & follow across the social media sphere.