Coffee Chat with Todd Johnson from Williams and Johnson
Published on under the Coffee Interviews category.
The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Williams and Johnson are a well-known name in the Scottish coffee industry, offering seasonally-rotated coffees. I have been following their presence online for a little while and I had a few questions about their roastery. Kindly, Todd Johnson, one of the founders, reached out to answer the questions I had over email. This interview was an absolute pleasure to do and I hope you enjoy reading it.
For my readers, could you tell me a bit about your role at Williams and Johnson?
I am one of two founders of Williams and Johnson. Exactly five years ago we started wholesaling our coffee. It was a year later that we opened our cafe. Zack and I own the business 50:50 and are completely independent. That said, my role can be many things. I'm glad I still find it interesting as there is always so much to be done. My favorite things to be getting on with are tasting samples of potential new coffees and then, once we have selected them, roasting them, trying to find the clearest expression of each coffee's specific natural character.
On your website, you note that you pride yourself on seasonally-rotated coffees. Could you tell me a bit more about how you source your coffees?
We are always planning and releasing new coffee as soon after their harvest as possible. Raw coffee is quite stable but it does age and become less vibrant and more woody over time. Fresh crop coffee generally means less than a year after harvest, but we like our coffees to be less than six months or so after harvest.
Some coffees do age better than others but always trying to keep it super fresh helps us ensure that all our coffees have as much flavour and retain as much of their specific character as possible. We do buy some vacuum packed coffees, for example our Colombian coffees are almost always vacuum packed so these are more stable and keep really well. Colombia also can have a pretty solid fly crop so we tend to buy these coffees every six months anyway. I highly recommend trying on of our Colombian filter coffees ;).
What do you do when a new coffee arrives at the roastery before you actually start roasting the beans in production?
When a new green coffee arrives at the roastery we have almost always already tasted a roasted sample. We thus have a good idea of the lots' potential flavour profile. The first thing I do is cut open the bag and get my head right in there.
The smell of the green can really nod towards the potential fruit flavour notes hidden withing the little green beans. Especially when that flavour is coming from the fermentation process of the coffee. It can smell like stewed fruits, sweet like over ripe berries or clean and crisp like a granny smiths apple. Often the green coffee has a sent like cacao butter or floral or waxy as well as a hay and grain-like scents.
How deep the greeny-blue colour of the beans is, as well as their size may also inform how you approach the initial roasts. We actually don't currently measure density or moisture content at the roaster, although some of this information would be available to us if we desired it. But, I follow my senses and I am informed by previous seasons or similar coffees. We often buy the same lots year after year or at least coffee from the same washing station, mills or regions. It can be really satisfying roasting and immediately recognizing an old and familiar coffee.
How do you know when a roast is ready to come out of the roaster?
Having a cafe is a great asset when it comes to dialling in coffees to check how well roast profiles are working as well as having an avenue to use up and not waste initial roasts that maybe still need a bit of work. I'm totally happy to send out a coffee when it is full-bodied without having any overly bitter or savory notes from the roast. If it is clean and full-bodied and has a pleasing balance between acidity and sweetness it's ready.
How do you determine the best way to roast all the coffees you offer?
Depending on the flavours we are trying to accentuate we may manipulate the roast to attempt to enhance sweetness or choose instead to promote the acidity. in order for this to work best across all brew methods we offer two different roast styles: 'filter' and 'espresso'. The basic theory behind this is that espresso is extracted quicker than a filter and with the same roast this would overly accentuate the acidity of the coffee. We also want espresso roasts to have a pleasant amount of body and to be open and easy to wok with.
When choosing a coffee for espresso we want it to have good body and be very clean, primarily. A filter coffee may vary slightly more in body as some subtle nuances in a given bean, say the fruity or floral notes may sing a bit louder in a lighter roast.
Honestly though a great raw coffee normally can easily become either a filter or espresso offering. We regularly roast each of our coffees the other way, especially for our 'coffee subscription' subscribers to keep things interesting and to show them that we care ;). The first thing I do when receiving a coffee that we are considering for our 'seasonal espresso' offering is conduct a small batch, light filter roast of it to better get to know the bean better. I try to get the clearest expression of the flavour with as little noise from the roast to see its true potential.
I have noticed your coffees have quite minimal packaging. Why did you change your packaging?
We recently changed our packaging to be plastic free and almost entirely home-compostable. Working with the principles that the most important factors in the quality of flavour in our coffees were the sourcing and roasting and also the belief that we should prioritise our environmental impacts as well as the message we send out about these issues, we came to a very minimal and simple design.
There are other options out there that will preserve the optimal flavour of the coffee longer than our plant based, home-compostable cellophane bags. But, we are going to be offering nice and aesthetically pleasing reusable screw top glass jars that should keep your very fresh coffee tasting just great. Our focus is on the coffee and we hope that our recent change in packaging still reflects that.
What advice would you have for someone who is interested in pursuing a career in the speciality coffee industry?
For anyone wanting to pursue a career in specialty coffee I would recommend figuring out what it is that you like about it and which companies you think are the best at the areas you are interested in and approach them. I would recommend not being shy about saying what it is that you hope to learn but also being aware that you might need to be open-minded about what positions are available and try to gain experience and learn as much as you can in any role. There may be more opportunity for absorbing information within owner operated companies.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
I just drank our Yirgacheffe brewed in a stove top at home. This is our lightest filter roast at the moment and I just did it out of curiosity (I would normally recommend espresso roast for stove top). However, because of the beans being quite well rested after the roast date and the very high temperature and slightly elongated contact time in this brew method, it was pretty sweet only with a slight astringency. Once you have a good knowledge of the factors that effect extraction and the resulting flavours in the cup , I recommend exploring. So far I have learned that there is always more to learn.
What is your favourite way to brew coffee?
My favorite way to brew and appreciate amazing coffees is pour over. I love the simplicity of the methought and the clarity of flavour as well as the controls you have just with the grind size and you pour. I rarely stray from 60:1000, 60g of coffee per 1 litre of boiled water (I normally brew 250ml).
What is the origin of the name "Williams and Johnson"?
The origin of our name is simple: Zachary Williams and Todd Johnson, my business partner and I are the founders.
You can learn about Williams and Johnson on their Instagram page @williams_and_johnson_coffee or on their website at www.williamsandjohnson.com
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