Be prepared for a roasting...
'SOMEONE drove here from Manchester,” says Jack Foster. “Just to have a coffee.”
Foster, founder of Crosby Coffee, goes the extra mile to keep the customer satisfied.
A lot of extra miles. Every month, between them, he and co-owner Mark Slinger make covert visits to 20 of the cafes, bars and restaurants who serve up Crosby Coffee to check they are doing it right.
If they’re not, Foster and Slinger are not afraid to put them straight and are even prepared to stop supplying them beans from their roastery and cafe in north Liverpool, or Sefton, depending on your particular prejudices.
It’s not come to that yet although managers at a couple of places “have got their backs up”.
In four years, Crosby Coffee has grown from enthusiast Foster’s hobby, roasting beans for himself and a few friends out of his mum’s living room, to an award-winning, international concern with commercial and retail customers throughout the North West, up and down the UK, and across Europe from Ireland to Austria.
As a hospitality manager, Foster travelled a lot and “found solace in coffee shops off the beaten track. I noticed the difference between London and the North West. Here it’s just a product.”
The jump from pastime to full-time coffee merchant came at a community market in Crosby village. He took 50 bags of lounge-roasted beans, with handwritten stickers bearing nothing more than a contact number and the name of the newly-christened Crosby Coffee “because it’s where I’m from, where I live”.
After that the phone kept ringing, with one of those calls coming from a local restaurant wanting to add Crosby Coffee to their drinks menu.
Until then, Foster had been “Messing around at home, selling little bags of coffee to friends just to cover the cost, then getting phone calls from friends wanting bags for friends”.
Five months on from the market stall success, in July 2014, Foster established the business. Slinger, a pal from schooldays, jumped on board last year, and HQ moved from a unit on a Litherland industrial estate to their roastery and coffee shop in Waterloo.
Wholesale customers now include Haydock and Aintree racecourses, and punters at this week’s Grand National Festival were being offered a special big race blend.
Down in the basement, they insist on personally training everyone who will be serving up their coffee to the public. “The barista is key so every new customers has to bring their staff in here.
“Some of them back off but so far nobody has said ‘no’ once we explain why. If we are not confident, we will not sell to them.”
Foster and Slinger use only top grade beans – “cheap beans are a no-no,” says Foster – and only fresh beans; roasting only what they need each week to ensure it does not go stale. Stale coffee being the curse of a thousand coffee houses.
The open plan roastery takes up one side of the L-shaped corner premises, previously a bathroom showroom, in spitting distance of Crosby beach.
In the cafe, they have made the most of limited space with room for a decent crowd without it feeling cramped. Alternatively, try the window counter, handsomely fashioned from reclaimed wood, or, the elements permitting, a small patio area at the front.
Between eight and nine o’clock a steady stream of commuters collect their morning caffeine infusion en route to bus and train.
We try it for ourselves. The Trio blend (£2) has a subtly citrus acidity but if it you’re in need of something sturdier, the Iron Men blend is named in honour of Gormley’s hundred metal statues across the way and every bit as substantial. Take a sip and it comes on all George Clooney – rich and smooth, with a great body.
Latte (£2.60) made with single origin Ugandan beans is, my friend says, “very good, medium-to-bold, I’m definitely getting chocolately, dark chocolately”.
A modest food menu offers bagels, soup and sandwiches, the lattter served between soft, fresh, oaty slices. Fillings of beetroot (the pickled sort, by the way), halloumi and watercress sprigs in one; chicken breast, mayo and spinach leaf in the other, are not fabulous but you wouldn’t kick them out of bread.
Cakes are a mix of superior bought-in varieties, like Queen Vic traybake (£2.25), soft and light but not cloying, and some excellent contributions from Foster’s mum.
We take a bag of Iron Men beans to try at home. I ask if they have any words of advice on preparation and we are provided with a demonstration of how finely to grind the beans – a couple of grinds for cafetiere, up to 30 seconds for the trusty old percolator.
A brief whizz makes a very satisfactory cupful from the cafetiere, but to appreciate it at its best, leave it to the experts. And if you want my advice, you’ll get on the Clooney juice.