The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters, who are based in the Scottish Highlands, are one of the most well-known roasters in Scotland, roasting single-origin coffees from around the world. I had read a bit about how they got started online. But, I had some questions about how troasters like Glen Lyon source coffee.
I decided to email them and Fiona Grant, the founder of Glen Lyon, reached out to answer my questions. Our conversation that took place over email is below.
For my readers, could you tell me a bit about Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters and why you decided to open a coffee roastery?
I worked in South America as a journalist for many years during which I got to meet coffee farmers and understand a little more about the coffee industry from the producer’s side of things. It was an industry that had always fascinated me and one that I had hoped to work in eventually. During a three month family camping trip down the West Coast of the United States in 2010 I came across lots of micro-roasteries in many of the towns and communities that we passed through and I figured that maybe this was something I could set up back home in Glen Lyon.
I installed a five-kilo roaster that I bought on eBay in the bothy next to our house and started selling small batch roasts in local farmers markets. The first years were the hardest with no staff and no heating in the bothy through the winter. The biggest challenge was getting lorries to deliver green coffee along 10 miles of single-track road, with several having to be regularly dug out of snow drifts!
In 2014 we moved the roastery to Aberfeldy. Here we invested in a 12 kilo Probat roaster (which we still use today along our 25kg Probat). The business has grown steadily and we are now an international team of six, supplying freshly roasted speciality coffee across Scotland and beyond.
All of our speciality coffees are 100% traceable and ethically sourced. We build direct, long term relationships with producers and trading partners throughout the supply train and pay the coffee farmers we work with significantly above Fairtrade prices. We offer a welcoming and supportive work environment to our roastery team in Aberfeldy, together with good rates of pay. Every year our team plants trees in the Highlands to offset our carbon footprint. We are totally committed to zero waste and making our impact on the planet a positive one.
How do you source coffees to roast? How do you evaluate which coffees meet your needs?
We cup, cup and then cup some more! We choose coffees based on quality and try to make sure we have a good range of origins, processes and flavours in the roastery at any specific time. At Glen Lyon we are big fans of sweet, clean fully washed Central and South American coffees and always have some amazing boozy Brazilian naturals as well as bright floral Ethiopians and blackcurrant-y Kenyan and Tanzanian coffees. Over 40% of the coffee we buy is through direct trade with farms that we have long term relationships with in Bolivia and Brazil. Our direct trade relationships are hugely important to us and we have a commitment to buy with the same farms every year.
We also work closely with a handful of importers who are committed to ethical sourcing and ensuring a sustainable future for coffee producers and those along the supply chain. They regularly send us green coffee samples which we sample roast on our Ikawa and then cup for quality.
On your website, you talk about your commitment to zero waste. Could you tell me a bit more about why sustainability matters to you and how you reduce waste?
At the heart of Glen Lyon is our mission is to put people and the environment before profit and a commitment to zero waste is something we feel every responsible business should be making. Three years ago we worked closely with a German company to design a 1KG bag that would be wholly compostable but that would also preserve the flavour and freshness of our coffee. Last year we moved over to TUV Austria Home Compost certified 250g bags as well.
We encourage visitors to our roastery café to bring their own reusables for take out drinks and offer a 10% discount as an incentive. Otherwise we only use compostable take away cups and have an onsite weekly collection for industrial composting. All our parcels are sent out in recycled paper mailing bags from a climate neutral company and we make local deliveries in our electric car. We also stock some brilliant kit for sale on our website such as our Klean Kanteen plastic free thermos as well as organic cloth filters and Frank Green reusable cups. Any long dated coffee or roasts that we maybe weren’t 100% satisfied with we deliver to our local Fareshare offices who redistribute it to local charities.
How do you come up with the roast profile for a new coffee?
We take into account factors such bean density and how the coffee was processed. For example we find that natural processed coffees prefer to be treated quite gently. We always sensory roast new coffees to make sure we hit that sweet spot and we use Cropster roasting software to ensure consistency with subsequent roasts. Someone once said to me that having Cropster was like having an extra member of staff and I can fully vouch for that!
What role does cupping play in your roastery? Who is involved in the cupping process?
Cupping is literally the most important thing we do at the roastery and is personally my favourite part of the day.
As a Q Grader I carry out most of the daily cupping and quality control but the whole team is usually involved as well. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic we would make sure that we would all gather to cup daily as a team and it was a wonderful way to get together as well as cup coffees. At the moment with social distancing and lockdown I find I’m mainly cupping on my own and often now at my kitchen table at home. I’ve recently been joining in with some cuppings over Zoom with fellow UK roasters which has been a lot of fun.
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in a career in coffee and who is just getting started?
Seek out your local roastery and try as many different coffees as you can. Your local roaster will always be happy to answer any questions and help suggest new and interesting coffees to try. There are some great books out there now too from the likes of Scott Rao, Ryan Brown and James Hoffman as well as some good coffee blogs and websites – try Sprudge.com for starters. The SCA also offer fantastic courses that will get you internationally recognised qualifications – anything from Green Coffee to Barista Skills.
The Speciality Coffee industry is a wonderful community and a career in coffee is definitely something I would recommend.
What roaster(s) do you use at Glen Lyon?
Probat 12KG, Probat 25KG and our Ikawa sample roaster.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
Tanzania Iyenga – it’s delicious!
What is your favourite method of brewing coffee?
A French Press or Chemex at home and our Mocca Master for team batch brews at the roastery.
You can find out more about Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters on their website at www.glenlyoncoffee.co.uk or on their Instagram page @glenlyoncoffee.