A new Orkney based business is sourcing and roasting high quality coffee beans from around the world, in the first commercial venture of its kind in the islands.
The Orkney Roastery - set up by Sara Tait and Euan Smith - produces small batches of its own Aria brand coffees at its micro-roastery in Kirkwall for supply to shops, cafés, restaurants and hotels.
Sara and Euan are partners with Orkney business, training and advice consultancy, Sorton, but speciality coffee has long been a shared passion, one that planted the seed for this new enterprise.
“Anyone who has tasted freshly roasted coffee, produced with real care for the beans and attention to detail in terms of the process, will know it’s a completely different experience from drinking, say, instant coffee from a jar,” explained Euan, a former operations director with the Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company. “The downside is that it’s quite hard to get hold of genuine, freshly roasted coffee in Orkney, given our location and the occasional transport issues that presents.
“We’ve worked closely with the food and drink and catering sectors in Orkney for many years and felt there was a real opportunity here for a micro-roastery, which could supply a premium product for people to enjoy globally.”
Sara added: “Euan has dealt with a lot of coffee in his career and has always said he one day wanted to roast his own. I’m equally passionate about coffee and the idea of creating a micro-roastery in Orkney has always been there in the background as we’ve worked together in our day jobs. We eventually decided that if we were going to do it, then this was the right time.”
The company commissioned a special 10kg gas roaster from Toper and have customised it over the last three months to achieve the exact control and recording capabilities to match their roasting processes.
“As we progress, we’ll be sourcing a whole range of coffees from relatively well-known and popular places, such as Colombia and Kenya, but we’ll also have some more exotic specialities,” said Sara. “We’ll then work with those coffees to figure out the best way to treat and roast the green beans and how to get the best flavour out of them. Our production runs will be very small, 8-10kg at a time, so we can fine tune the process and zero in on what really works. We’ve been testingour various beans in our sample roaster for several months now and then cupping the roasts to understand the characteristics of each one -it’s pretty much the same as wine tasting. It takes a lot of time and care, and we’re making sure that every coffee we produce meets the profiles we want to match.”
Euan explained the company will be offering whole bean coffee, for those who like to grind their own, along with cafetiere, filter and espresso grinds.
“We’re also working on developing our own special blends, particularly espressos, where we’re keen to offer some real variety, ranging from the quite traditional Italian-styles blends, right through to modern espresso interpretations,” he added. “There’s plenty to keep us busy!”
Each roast being produced under the Aria brand has a musical theme – Aria was a coffee loving character in Johann Sebastian Bach’s comic opera, The Coffee Cantata – with, for example, the company’s Colombian coffee named Bolero, and its first espresso called Overture.
Green coffee beans arriving at the Orkney Roastery are put through a rigorous traceability system before being sample roasted and ‘cupped’ to check flavour.
“To get the best from a coffee we have to watch it right through its roasting cycle and be on hand to adjust the various settings to achieve the profile we’re after,” explained Euan. “There are so many variables – the moisture in the bean, the type of bean, even the wind direction outside, which can affect the airflow through the coffee bed. Your typical jar of coffee will be made via an industrial roasting process – it will be automated to achieve consistency and efficiency – but our manual process takes time and attention and it means you can get that bit more flavour out of the beans.
“We really hope that our customers, particularly locally, will have the opportunity to enjoy very freshly roasted coffee that will now be readily available on their doorstep.”
“In terms of our market, there are lots of people out there who are interested in fresh coffee and keen to explore new options,” said Sara. “We’d also love to attract instant coffee drinkers and reckon our roasts represent the ideal opportunity to convert! We also ultimately want to give catering establishments in Orkney the chance to commission special blends and roasts, so they can offer their own bespoke coffees to customers. Our ethos is all about producing coffee that folk will enjoy. It’s handcrafted and we genuinely care about the process, which really lets the beans shine. ”
Edgar Balfour, development manager for Orkney food, drink and crafts, said: “The Orkney Roastery is a unique new venture, one that’s filling a gap in the local food and drink market, and we’re sure it’ll prove to be a massive hit with lovers of proper coffee. Clearly, Sara and Euan have put an immense amount of hard work into creating a quality brand, one that reflects the values of all the companies within the Orkney Food and Drink fold, and we’re delighted to welcome them in.”
More details on where to find the Aria brand in the islands can be found on the Orkney Roastery’s Facebook page. The Orkney Roastery has also been the subject of a special 'Business Focus' feature on the Orkney.com website - watch a short film about the business.