Waking Up to Great Coffee
Award winning journalist Emma Inch discovers how the coffee trade has been brewing in East Sussex, creating delicious roasts that would normally only be found within city limits.
Monika Kostrubala is cupping coffee. On her work bench sits a neat row of tiny mugs, each filled and ready for tasting. On the shelves around her, pouches of roasted beans and small tins of handmade coffee body scrub line the walls. Outside, a sturdy wind whips over the Downs, but inside is a still oasis; quiet, warm and filled with the roasted chocolate, red fruit, caramel-nut aroma of good coffee.
From a business point of view, there are a lot of great coffee shops and lots of coffee drinkers who are knowledgeable about coffee. For those of us who care enough to put the effort in, it’s great to have this kind of captive audience.Rick CurtisManaging Director of Pharmacie Coffee
Waking Up to Great Coffee
Monika grew up in Poland, and has always enjoyed coffee. In the past, she studied ecology and worked for a fragrance company, and she draws on all her experience in her current role.
‘I’m really crazy about plants,’ she explains, ‘And coffee itself, it’s such an interesting plant. It’s unbelievable. So many varieties, so many different beans, and you need to know the coffee species to know how to properly roast it.’
Monica Kostrubala, Liquid Spirit Coffee Roasters
In 2019, Monika, together with her husband, founded Liquid Spirit Coffee Roasters, just one of the wave of new roasteries that, over the past few years, has transformed the coffee scene in East Sussex. Based on a working farm in Litlington, four miles northeast from the coastal town of Seaford, the roastery is one of a number of businesses on site, including Long Man Brewery and Cadence, a café serving it’s own unique blend of coffee, developed alongside Liquid Spirit. On a hot day, the farm is alive with visitors to the brewery shop and a constant stream of cyclists and walkers from the nearby South Downs Way, enjoying the lift that great coffee can bring.
Its mix of accessible countryside, busy towns, good transport links, and a relative proximity to the capital, makes East Sussex an ideal place to set up a coffee roastery. Omer Seydioglu is the co-founder of Moresso Coffee Roasters, based in Lye Green, near Crowborough. Having previously operated a café with a small roastery in Crystal Palace, when it came to time to expand, he moved south.
‘We looked at other places around or within the M25: Sevenoaks, Dartford, a bit closer to southeast London, but the prices are that bit higher; so this is good,’ he explains. ‘Location-wise, we are close to southeast London where our customer base are, and we can also expand towards the southeast coast in the future…and we like the area as well!’
Omer Seydioglu, Moresso Coffee Roasters
‘The weather is some of the best in the country,’ he explains. ‘The sea is close, the South Downs are beautiful and the white cliffs iconic.’
The new roasters are finding an educated audience for their coffee in the county. Only a few years ago, not many people knew the difference between speciality coffee and the kind of coffee they bought in the supermarket, but this has changed.
‘If you go back like five, ten years, you would have to explain to most people what speciality coffee is,’ he explains. ‘But nowadays there are some customers who would know more than us, or match the skill and knowledge with us.’
Given its proximity to the city, many people who live in East Sussex work in London. Darren Tickner is the Director of Bean Smitten, a coffee roastery in Flimwell on the East Sussex/Kent border. He has noticed a demand for speciality coffee from people wanting to recreate coffee experiences they may have had in the capital. This has intensified since coronavirus lockdowns led to more people working from home.
‘Customers tend to be well-informed and prepared to pay a little more for sustainability, traceability and quality,’ he explains, ‘During the height of the pandemic, the increase in shopping local increased massively, due to people wanting to support local small businesses – with a fear of those businesses going under – and not being able to get a supermarket delivery slot…They were then being pleasantly surprised by discovering that the quality of the local produce was far better than any supermarket!’
This wish to shop locally goes hand in hand with a wish to know where one’s food and drink has come from.
‘Traceability is especially important to our customers – people like to know exactly what they’re putting in their bodies nowadays,’ Darren explains, ‘They like to know how the food and drink was grown, where it was grown, [and] how it was processed.’
Having a number of new roasteries in the county is good for coffee lovers, but can also be good for the roasters themselves.
‘It actually brings a real spirit of cooperation and community as well as obvious friendly competition,’ says Darren. ‘We help each other out in times of need…we’ve had another roaster phone us and then come to use our roaster as theirs was broken, and we know they would do the same for us. We talk regularly and discuss local events, coffee in general, equipment et cetera. We meet up socially too! And, of course, having these competitors makes you think outside the box and want to have different coffees and products to them, that we can offer our customers.’
Coffee roasteries join a county that already boasts dozens of small brewers, award-winning wineries, and innovative distilleries. Links between different producers are not uncommon. For example, Pharmacie Coffee Roasters recently collaborated with their neighbours, Beak Brewery, to produce Oopla, a rich 10% imperial stout brewed with six malts, flaked oats, Madagascan vanilla, and Pharmacie’s freshly roasted coffee.
Roasteries like Pharmacie, Liquid Spirit, Moresso and Bean Smitten complement the artisanal feel of the county, a place where many independent, creative, and sustainable businesses thrive, amongst a population that likes to support them. And as the time comes to grow as a business, there are people that can help. When Pharmacie Coffee made the move from their original home in Hove to their current location in Lewes, Managing Director, Rick, reached out.
‘We knew that moving our roastery was going to be financially risky, but fortunately we came across Adam Berger at Locate East Sussex who guided us through the forms required to get the support we needed to get our project off the ground in a positive way,’ he explains. ‘Adam was relentlessly optimistic (even when I wasn’t!) and made sure we were aware of what funding was available to us, as well as what our obligations would be…We were able to hire the staff we needed and get the new roastery completed to our highest specification.’
The day ahead always looks brighter when you wake up to good coffee, and the future of coffee roasting in East Sussex looks equally bright. Roasters are combining their imagination creativity and determination to create a lively and diverse scene that’s growing all the time. Right across the county, roasters like Monika continue to quietly cup their coffee, tasting, creating, and ensuring that the people of East Sussex have access to some of the very best coffee in the world, right here on their doorstep.