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Coffee Chat with Catherine Franks from Steampunk Coffee

Published on under the Coffee Interviews category.

A coffee roaster whose drum is being opened, pouring roasted brown coffee beans onto a cooling tray

I talk a lot about Steampunk Coffee, a coffee roaster based in North Berwick, Scotland, both on this blog and in general. Their cupping session gave me an opportunity to refine my cupping skills and taste five excellent coffees. Not only that, but they’ve been authoring coffee-related content that has caught my attention, from insightful blog posts to their podcast.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Catherine Franks, the owner of Steampunk Coffee, over email about their digital strategy and how they blog about coffee. This is the first in my coffee bloggers series where I got to see behind the scenes of a roaster coffee blog instead of a personal one. I hope you enjoy.

When did you launch the Steampunk blog? What was your motivation behind starting the blog?

This year with Covid slowing things down on the cafe side of the business I found I finally had time to spend on different projects that are of interest to me. I wanted to be able to continue having all the conversations that I’ve enjoyed over the years with people while running the business but taking them online to maybe reach out to a wider audience.

Up until this year I mainly communicated with people about what Steampunk was doing through social media - primarily Instagram. During lockdown I also loved using Instagram stories to share things like dog walks on our beautiful beaches and sharing recipes when people were busy doing all that home baking.

I loved the connections that brought and it was so nice being able to share free things with people that brought them so much happiness. They were keeping us going by buying coffee and I wanted to give something back! I ended up putting together a little book of recipes, walks and thoughts from the lockdown experience (called ‘Recipes for Happiness’) and that got me writing things in a bit of a longer format than Instagram posts would allow. People who know us though will be aware that I am partial to Instagram posts about things I feel strongly about that max out the Insta word count limit (check out my annual Black Friday post ;-)).

I see that you have an “ask the barista” series where you answer common questions. How do you go about planning these posts?

That idea came about because we have definitely noticed a huge increase in brewing at home due to Covid and lockdown. As a result we have had a lot of questions from customers and we have also been really interested in helping people get the best out of their coffee beans once they are at home. We want them to get the most enjoyment out of the coffees they are spending money on!

Instead of simply answering lots of individual questions, it made sense to collect the info in one place so that people could refer to it as and when they needed. We have a bunch of FAQs that we will work through but will also periodically ask customers to send us questions - most likely through Instagram stories and suchlike.

What does the process look like from choosing a topic to publishing a final post?

I generally try to look at any particular subject from the customer’s point of view. I try to think how this information might actually be useful or fix a problem or answer a question for them. I realise that there is a ton of info out there about coffee that anyone can Google but then in a sense that is a problem because how do you know which info to trust? How do you sift through it all? What I am trying to do is look at things that could directly help or be of interest to our customers and then give them a quick and easily accessible digest.

I also pop links in so that people who want to geek out or follow a wee rabbit hole of info can follow it and find out more. Steampunk’s ethos has always been that we are knowledgeable and pretty geeky about coffee but we want to be accessible and friendly so that anyone who is interested in finding out more about coffee can engage with us. We don’t want people to feel intimidated by coffee but rather we want to make them curious and interested in finding out more.

How do you see blogging as part of your growing digital strategy?

As I mentioned earlier, up until this year most of our media efforts were focussed on Instagram. That was a fun and easy thing for us as coffee is so visual and it fits perfectly with my love of taking pictures and story telling. Recently however I have been growing increasingly worried (and annoyed) by changes in how Instagram was working and felt that I had little control over how I could reach people through it.

It is my suspicion that FB want to get businesses to pay for advertising and turn Insta into something more like FB (boo!) and they are making it harder for us to reach our audiences. It seemed natural to start sharing through blogs instead as we can reach people directly through our website.

I’m hoping the blogging will be something that will be complimentary to what we are doing on our podcasts. We are slowly getting into lots of different coffee related topics with interviews and chats on the podcast and the blog is a way of offering some other info in a different format. It would be interesting to know if the same people interact with both or if they reach different audiences. I think definitely some of our regulars and our friends look at and listen to both.

You launched a podcast earlier this year that is currently in its second season. What encouraged you to launch a podcast?

I really missed chatting to people. During lockdown we were kept busy with online orders but we all missed the personal interactions and conversations we had with people when we were a bustling cafe. Coffee for me is very much all about community and relationships, ideas and conversations and I missed that with the cafe space closed. Then I got invited to be a guest on a fantastic podcast run by our colleague at Steampunk, Peter Mackie, who runs a mental health focused blog and podcast called Tell Me a Time.

We recorded it at Steampunk and I caught the podcast bug. Actually there is a funny story here, we ended up having to record the podcast twice! Up until that point Pete’s podcasts had all been done long distance due to lockdown so in this first live recorded one we had an equipment malfunction and ended up with a terrible echo. That led us to roping in Cameron Smith, another member of Team Steam who is currently studying towards a masters in sound technology.

We all had so much fun doing it and were so happy with the results of Cameron’s recording magic that we wanted to create a Steampunk podcast. Cameron has also created the little musical interludes on the podcast using sounds from Steampunk and North Berwick and his own music. The pod has been a great way of getting various different members of the team involved in different aspects of the business and also increasing staff hours which is needed just now with our reduced cafe service.

Is there one person who works on your blog or is it more of a team effort, with different people from the Steampunk team chipping in?

Most of the blog so far has been written by me with the exception of an article by our Head Roaster Rachel Beebe about Fair-trade and the very notable exception of some delicious recipe shares from Jen Ingles from the Steampunk kitchen. I’m hoping over time however that we will have a variety of contributions from different team members

It will be great to get a diverse range of voices up on the blog. I really enjoy writing though and for now while everyone is busy with other things I’m happy to be doing it.

Do you brew at home? If so, what’s your go-to brewing method?

Yes, though to be fair I am at Steampunk most days so generally get my coffee there. If I’m having a day off I will brew coffee on my bright yellow Moccamaster. I have had it a couple of years now and I love it!

What is your favourite coffee that you are currently offering at Steampunk?

We are just about to launch Bale Mountain, an Ethiopian coffee we roasted last season also. I first cupped this coffee when I visited the area in Ethiopia where it is from in 2019. It is one of my favourite ever coffees and also holds those special memories for me of visiting that incredible country.

Do you like to have a snack with a coffee (assuming you are not cupping)?

Chocolate chip cookie. Always.

You can find out more about Steampunk on their website at steampunkcoffee.co.uk. I recommend reading their posts on how to store your coffee and their response to the question “is your coffee Fair Trade?

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