Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Lantana Cup of Excellence

Before I opened Lantana I spent many months researching coffee suppliers; meeting with different roasters, sampling their various single origin coffees and blends, and testing how they tasted in different types of drinks. The challenge was to find a coffee that tasted as good as an espresso as it did in a milky drink like a latte so that I could satisfy as many customers as possible. The challenge, with that much caffeine coursing through my blood stream, was to stop my brain exploding and stay focused enough to make rational decisions.

I went on field trips to warehouses and cafes across London and met the entire spectrum of coffee suppliers from artisan micro roasters to large scale distributors. But the company I found myself benchmarking all others against was the one I eventually chose as our supplier - Monmouth.

It wasn’t just the taste of the coffee that I loved, it was the whole ethos of the company and particularly, the company’s founder, Anita le Roy, that impressed me. Anita is one of the pioneers of the UK coffee industry who started roasting coffee in the basement of a small shop in Covent Garden in the seventies. She had a vision to provide ethically produced high quality coffee to the UK market and the stamina and determination to keep doing it for 30 years. After all this time she is still very hands on in the day to day running of the business and as committed as ever to the principles on which Monmouth was founded. She seems to have achieved the impossible by successfully growing and building a company while keeping it ‘small’.

Time will tell whether I have her stamina but I know I share her determination to continually improve the coffee we offer our customers. So after 18 months of using Monmouth’s Espresso blend, I wanted to see if we couldn’t tweak it slightly to create the perfect Lantana Espresso blend; one that tastes sweet and smooth when drunk as an espresso but with enough richness and body to retain a strong character when its made into a milk based coffee.

Under the guidance of Monmouth's coffee buyer, AJ Kinnell, we experimented with ratios of various single origin coffees and came up with a few different blends to compete in the Lantana Cup of Excellence*. As I couldn’t get the CoE's official international jurors (of which Anita is one) to judge the results, I called on Lantana's esteemed and opinionated baristas to form the judging panel.

Sean, Colleen and Brooke sample the blends

After much deliberation, the recipe for our Lantana Espresso blend (and label colour) was chosen; a blend of Ethiopian Cabey Yirgacheffe, Guatemalan Finca La Perla and Brazilian Fazenda Rainha.

We’ve been using our bespoke blend for about a month in the café and the feedback we’re getting from espresso and latte drinkers alike is positive so hopefully we’re on the path to creating the Lantana Cup of Excellence.

*Cup of Excellence are national competitions to find single-estate coffees that can be set aside from the commodity coffee market, where prices have been dropping due to over-production in some regions. The competition is run every year in nine coffee-producing countries from Colombia to El Salvador and Rwanda, and the winning coffee is chosen by a select group of national and international cuppers. The Cup of Excellence beans are considered the peak of coffee production and are sold to the highest bidder during an internet auction.