Interview with Mike Riley – Head of Speciality Coffee
At Two Chimps Coffee, we are passionate about really awesome tasting coffee.
We use the freshest green beans and roast by hand in small batches making sure you receive the freshest coffee possible, every time. To provide this, we need to source the best beans we can, which is why we work with Falcon Coffees to source the best coffees via direct trade, ethically.
Falcon Coffee originally sold coffee by the container full to larger organisations such as Starbucks and Taylors until about seven years ago when Mike Riley left his job of 25 years as head of coffee at Taylors of Harrogate.
He came on board and set up Falcon Speciality on behalf of the owners, right there in Harrogate. Before getting his dream job as a tea and coffee taster at Taylor’s 32 years ago, Mike trained as a chef and before hunting for a job within the food industry. With a big passion for food, he applied for all sorts of employment with the industry such as quality control and luckily got accepted for Taylors’ role shortly after.
We spoke to Mike to find out more about what makes Falcon Speciality stand out from the rest and how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected coffee production.
Can you tell me what makes Falcon Speciality Special?
‘When I set up Falcon Speciality, I said if we were to build the business on these pillars, we’ve got a chance to be successful. Firstly, we need fantastic coffees that are beautiful in the cup, complex and exciting but not all of them. You also need coffees with a solid base like a great Brazil; therefore, the First pillar is Great Quality.
Second is ethical sourcing and environment; caring about the farmers we work with. I introduced an ethical policy which I wrote with my colleague when I was at Taylors, which is about paying sustainable prices. I trained as a social auditor looking at living and working conditions on coffee farms and I knew I didn’t want to be part of a commodity market. Instead, we want to ensure the prices we pay for speciality coffee will cover the cost of production and give them profits so they can thrive too.
Third, to find and share product knowledge that I used to struggle to get from the farmers. Information such as, what altitude is the coffee grown at, what varietal are you using, exactly where in the country is the farm, tell me about the processing, tell me about the farmer, how long have they been farming, what else do they produce. I used to email them but only get the answer to one question! We wanted to tell the farmers’ stories, provide an information sheet, images and background stories like teaching farms to produce coffees in different ways that will add value to their coffees.
Fourth, is customer service. If you get an email or a phone call, you need to be on it. If someone shows an interest in your business, then you need to get back to them as soon as possible.
Fifth is relationships. It’s not always about profit and being bigger and better; it’s about the people. Visiting the roasteries and the farms, looking after and treating everyone the same, even the smaller companies.’
What do you do in your current role?
When I established the business, I worked as head of coffee but recently changed roles. The company is based in Brighton and I live in the North, so I wasn’t there enough. I took on a lesser role which involves meeting with roasters, cupping coffee, talking coffee, helping to plan, and a bit of admin at my home office at the end of my garden! I enjoy my job, working with likeminded people that you’ve got so much in common with. Every week, I see so many different types of roasteries, different business approaches, and I am always really enthused and energised about what people like Two Chimps Coffee are doing.
I also work as a Q-Grader instructor teaching coffee tasting courses; however, this is on hold at the moment due to Coronavirus.
What do you think of Two Chimps Coffee?
When I met Andy & Laura, I could tell they were really switched on, and I liked them as soon as I met them. They’re one of my favourite accounts!
What would you say is different about Falcon from other coffee traders?
We have loads of expertise within the business, such as people who used to be coffee roasters. We also have 8 Q-graders, social auditors, and logistics experts; so we can share all of these skills with our customers for free. We want to help if you have issues with roasting a particular coffee. This is where it’s important to have the relationships. I also get regular calls from farmers who talk to me about their problems!
How has Coronavirus affected your speciality coffee farmers, and is there anything we can do about it?
Everybody’s business volume has fallen as we’re not able to supply cafes. We lost about 40% of volume, and because of this, if we needed to buy less coffee, that hits the farmers. We’re trying hard to sell coffee so we can keep buying. Different countries have different pandemic issues such as curfews, lockdowns and labour. Farms can’t harvest because they haven’t got enough people to help pick the coffee as they’re worried about family members dying.
There are no furlough systems in place, so struggles are magnified from what we suffer here.
They’ve also had complications with haulage at the ports. Because of our good relationship, we’re in contact and getting first-hand information. We have a presence in many countries, and it does seem that things are starting to get better. We’re at a 40% volume loss, but we were at 60%.
What do you think needs to happen going forward to support farmers post-pandemic?
The biggest worry now is the threat of multiple waves of the virus, so we have to continue supporting the farmers and their farms. We need to keep in touch and continue to sell coffee.
For instance, a few years back, a group of coffee farmers worked on the Blue Harvest project in El Salvador; a project to make sure there is enough water for the land, the people, and that the water is clean. Separately, a colleague of mine has done some work in Honduras, teaching farmers different methods of processing coffee. He then introduced the farmers in Honduras to the farmers in El Salvador. They taught them everything we taught them. So now, as well as doing the water project, they’re also producing honeys and naturals and getting better money too. This is an excellent example of the work that we’ve done at origin and what we will continue to do, post-pandemic.
What do you do when you’re not trading or tasting coffee?
As I can’t go to the gym currently, I’ve been swimming in the local river. As well as that I’ve been walking about 50miles a week. We’ve started a vegetable patch in the garden, gardening and I’m a huge football fan (Leeds United) so am desperate for the football season to get going. Of course, cooking, enjoying great food, drinking & craft beer and reading the kindle. Oh and playing blues harmonica which, I taught myself!
What’s your favourite accompaniment to go with a good cup of coffee?
I love chocolate!
So, there we have it. Some super insightful information from our suppliers.
Want to try some awesome coffee that Mike found for us? Head to the shop now!
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