In a new series, Luke Mackay goes behind the scenes with Borough’s traders to find out what makes them tick. This month: The Colombian Coffee Company
Images: Adrian Pope
Having spent all morning with Eduardo Florez at The Colombian Coffee Company stall, it is my last interaction with him that is the most instructive. Wired and twitchy after hours of espresso tasting, I asked for a hot chocolate to calm my nerves before the London Bridge tube descent and then watched in awe as Eduardo spent about seven minutes making it for me with love in his heart and passion in his eyes. “We do everything a stupid way,” he shrugged, unapologetically, as he gently melted raw cacao and ‘muddled’ it with a stick into gently warming raw milk and panela (sugar cane) and I wanted to hug him. For ‘stupid’ read ‘obsessive’, in the very best way.
The ‘non-stupid’ way would be to add hot milk to drinking chocolate powder and stir it. Imagine how many of those you could make in an hour! Imagine your profit margin! You could be a hot chocolate millionaire! But it wouldn’t taste of sweet, honeyed indulgence, complex, fruity and earthy all at once and it wouldn’t have been made by one of the most passionate and inspiring people that I have ever met.
I arrived at the stall at 7:30am and introduced myself to Luis and Anna, who are two of the best ‘catering’ staff that I’ve come across in many a year—both unfailingly polite and helpful, with a genuine desire to make sure that they make you the best coffee that you have ever tasted. The weight, to a fraction of a gram, the size of the grind, the temperature, the yield, and the pressure is all calculated with anal, scientific accuracy.
Care, community and perfection
The results of different combinations are passed around the team for comment and critique and it takes a while and many shots before perfection is pronounced. A soon as it is, they are open for business and serve perfect coffee in fine bone china cups to both save on paper and encourage conversation. Each member of staff is trained to talk to each customer to find out how they like their own individual coffee—care, community and perfection trumps turnover here.
The incongruity of ‘the Old Lady’, Eduardo’s near 20 years old espresso machine and the laboratory standard weigh scales and timers is not lost on me as a microcosm of his business—tradition and skill melded with technology and scientific rigour infects every level of the business which, given that Eduardo trained initially as a scientist, is not surprising. The passion and knowledge that he imbues in his staff most certainly is. Every single one of the six or seven I met throughout the day was wonderful, and a credit to both Eduardo and Borough Market.
He took me to see his new roastery just around the corner: a small roaster, sacks of beans and a lot of excel spread sheets and timers. Eduardo can roast just a kilogram at a time and he goes through the freshly roasted beans by hand, removing any bad ones. Each batch is recorded, checked and checked again, rated for aroma, flavour and mouthfeel before being bagged up for sale. Again, the attention to detail is breath-taking—every single time, every single bean.
Above market prices
There is more to all of this than just the supreme quality of the coffee. As Eduardo says, “We source our coffee from small farms, and pay above market prices.” He wants to make a difference in Colombia and I suspect from the one morning that I spent in his company that he will.
It’s really quite a thing to see.