In conversation with Kurt Stewart from Volcano Coffee
Volcano Coffee Works is a leading small batch, specialty coffee roastery and we are proud to be the tea that is exclusively offered in their iconic coffee shop in South London.
We thought it would be nice to find out a little bit more about this gourmet small batch speciality roastery, what makes them so special and why they are such big fans of Birchall tea. We spoke to the charismatic master roaster and co-founder Kurt Stewart about his passion for coffee and his very unique approach to roasting.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up founding Volcano Coffee Works?
Growing up in New Zealand one of my first loves’ was food and I trained as a classical French chef. In the early nineties I got the opportunity to move to the UK and ended up heading up a number of high end restaurants including the iconic Blacks and Mildred’s in London.
In New Zealand prior to moving to the UK I had my own little lunchtime café where we had the first ever espresso bar and a local roaster in Auckland roasting our own special blend called the Naked Lunch Blend. This was the actualisation of my love for coffee and in the late nineties I had the opportunity to train as a coffee roaster in the UK. An incredible experience, which opened up a whole new world of flavours and tastes, I could never have imagined.
At this time the food revolution was happening and stories of provenance and cookery craft where coming to the fore, however the quality of the coffee was not developing as quickly so meals were falling down at the final part. That’s when Volcano Coffee Works was conceived.
Where did you get your name from?
We wanted something punchy, fiery and industrial sounding and relevant to us all and as we grew up around Volcanoes back home and a lot of our coffees come from the fertile ground around Volcanoes so it felt like a good fit.
What makes Volcano Coffee taste different from other coffee roasteries?
Our signature taste I think comes from a combination of my unique culinary perspective and coming from the world of food science, which is totally flavour centred and driven by provenance. All roasters have a unique technique and palette, which is amazing as even from the same bean no coffee is ever the same. We will all find different sweet spots in terms of roasting techniques, manipulating the beans and roasting times. And mine is even more different as my palette derives from the culinary world. What is always fascinating is the incredible depth in coffee and the opportunities to combine, layer and blend coffees to create a landscape of flavour much like a sauce, a meal, a wine or a tea even.
When we are roasting coffee, we always look to build a story or paint a picture. We build a story from bean to cup every time. We want people to experience and see where their cup has derived from, all the way from the sourcing, climatic differences and up to the different roasting techniques.
What do you think the key principles Volcano Coffee Works have as a business?
I think it’s a combination of our no compromise on taste and quality and the full transparency of the whole journey of our coffee. It’s this coupled with our approachable and collaborative approach with our clients that sets us apart.
It’s definitely much more of a personal experience and we always closely involve our clients and make them feel a part of the journey whilst educating them along the way. It’s about collaboration to make sure our clients can deliver an all in one fantastic story and culinary experience in their worlds and we work with them to make that experience complete.
An example of this is our new Assembly range, which we’ve developed in collaboration with a number of customers, café owners and baristas. A large number of key figures in these worlds were heavily involved in the creation which means they feel a real part of the creation. The approach is a totally new one and it has worked very well and we’ve had very positive feedback.
What do you think of Birchall tea and why do you serve it?
Birchall tea is a great brand that has a lot of parallels with what we do in terms of sourcing and providing a non-compromising approach to quality. It’s this alongside their family heritage, which I have a lot of respect for. Building the brand over lots of economic and social changes and surviving whilst still maintaining their integrity is what I like the most.
What do you think of the taste of Birchall tea?
It really is a lovely tasting tea. I remember we did a blind taste and the appearance of the tea coupled with the sweet, fresh, clean and very nicely balanced blend that set it apart. I particularly love the single estate aspect of the brand, to deliver a carefully selected tea with a special flavour, which has a very interesting story to tell.
Do you think the two brands have similar philosophies?
I think the similarities between Birchall and our philosophy is all about the uncompromising on taste and quality, the honesty and ultimately being engaging and enthusiast with what we do. Maintaining the grass roots production aspects, craftsmanship and forming strong local relationships is definitely important for both brands too. All this adds to the overall experience, which is important to both Birchall’s and us.
What’s your favourite Birchall tea?
Virunga Afternoon Tea is my favourite Birchall tea. It’s got great body, a lovely soft floweriness to it whilst being very well balanced with out being heavy. It’s got a really nice balance of depth, sweetness and acidity.