The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Credit: Lance Aikman Green
Based in Arbroath, Sacred Grounds Coffee Company is led by a team of three people. At the moment, Sacred Grounds are roasting coffees every Wednesday, which they pick out through extensive cupping (coffee tasting). I recently spoke with Jamie, a roaster at Sacred Grounds Coffee Company, to learn more about how they approach roasting coffee. Our chat is below.
For my audience, could you tell me a bit about what you do at Sacred Grounds Coffee Company?
There’s only three of us so while we all do a bit of everything, I would say my main role is coffee roaster.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive in the roastery to set up for the day?
It’s not necessarily me but first thing is, of course, get the coffee on!…usually a prototype roast of a new coffee if we have one. Other than that, I check over Fatima (our non-human coffee roaster) and get her up to temperature, ready for the day ahead.
What tasks take up most of your time on a roast day, aside from the act of roasting coffee?
I’m pretty fortunate that on a roast day, that’s all I need to do. I find that concentration is key, and we have a very manual setup that requires constant attention. Sure, there are visitors etc. but mainly it’s just a case of roasting lots of batches of coffee.
During safer times we used to joke that we were no.1 espresso stop for our dads, in which case the answer would be “making dad a flat white, making dad a second flat white…pouring some filter coffee for dad…topping up dad’s filter coffee.” There’s nothing like taking advantage of your child’s profession eh!?
How do you assure the quality of the coffees you produce?
First up is making sure the coffees we have to roast are as good as they can be. We rely on Falcon Specialty for this and have done since we started. Since day one, Ian and I will cup the sample coffees we receive “blind” meaning that although we will know what coffees are on the table, we don’t know which is which, so any ideas we have on what we might like, or pricing etc. doesn’t get in the way of what tastes best…
Then we take the bad news to Kathryn that we chose the most expensive ones…again!
We do our best to use what we choose as quickly as possible, although I do believe that some coffees taste better after ageing green for a while, but that’s another topic.
Then it’s just a case of not messing things up! It’s an amazing “journey” that the coffee has been on, from agricultural techniques through processing, proper transportation etc. Our duty is to reflect that in our roast, and we drink a lot of coffee to make sure that is the case!
What are the main parts of the roasting process that you look out for? How do you know when a bean is ready to come out of the roaster?
While I look for certain temperatures to be hit at certain times, for me it all comes down to smell.
To what extent does technology influence how you roast coffee?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. I’d say our setup is very basic in the grand scheme, yet apart from sample roasting I haven’t used anything less basic. I would say that the technology of electronically plotting a graph does wonders for consistency, but other than that I enjoy being as hands-on as possible.
What is your favourite part about roasting coffee?
The trance-like state that being absolutely focussed on one thing allows! Good coffee roasting is very meditative I reckon, very demanding but nothing can be rushed. I like how being at one with a manual setup brings a lovely sense of calm. You can taste it in the coffee, of course!!
What do you enjoy most about the Scottish speciality coffee scene?
I’m not great at keeping in touch electronically so this has suffered a bit of late, but I’ve always loved how open and approachable people are on the scene. My coffee sits on a coaster from the inaugural Scottish Roasters Retreat, back in 2016, organised by the excellent folks at Glen Lyon. We were months old back then and everyone was so welcoming, the sharing of ideas was inspirational. Friendships were forged over whiskies by the fire. It was a very special time.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
Prototype roast of Ethiopian Bombe - it’s a really beautiful coffee, one of those coffees that seems to change every time you take a sip. I’m already thinking how I’ll change up the roast but I’m very happy with how it’s tasting.
What is your favourite way to prepare coffee at home?
Siphon all the way! But I do love the body of a good cafetière and have long term love/hate relationship with a manual lever espresso machine which I just can’t talk about right now.
If you could visit any coffee origin in the world, where would you go and why?
Hey, it’s 2021. I’ll be happy just to go into a coffee shop again! I’d love to go back to Cuba and the idea of Cuban speciality coffee fascinates me. When coffee and music culture meet though, that’s when real magic happens I reckon.
You can find out more about Sacred Grounds Coffee Company on their Instagram page at @sacred_grounds_coffee_company or on their website at www.sacred-grounds.coffee.