End of Year Highlights: 2023


As December comes to a close, it's time to both look back on 2023 and to look ahead at the year in front of us. For us at Colonna, 2023 was a busy year.

We opened our new cafe in London on Leather Lane in September. We view our London site as an opportunity to bring the coffee-centric, dialogue-driven approach to a cafe that we started in Bath to the streets and people of London. We had a warm welcome from the London coffee community and the locals in Clerkenwell. The space has also proved to be a perfect place to host industry events. We have had the opportunity to host a 'Best of Panama' tasting, as well as showcase the Peru Cup of Excellence, host producers from Laos' burgeoning specialty coffee scene, and welcome competitors for the Creators Cup. It has been noted many times, but it is true: the coffee industry has a thriving and engaging community.

After Darcy Miller of Darcy’s Cafe in Copenhagen gave me the idea for my latest book, “The Business of Specialty Coffee,” I set to writing in February, with a goal to write two thousand words a day and to end up with a forty thousand-word book by the end of April. Suffice to say, this ambition was unlikely to ever materialise. The book's scope grew and grew, and I also found myself undertaking various lines of research to be able to tackle certain chapters. The process of writing the book naturally made me reflect on our own business. I am very proud of the coffee business we have built, but I also see many areas for us to keep improving and refining, while continuing to pursue the same goals we had when we started out - pursuing those cups of delicious coffee full of character and complexity and the conversation and relationships that they create.

This year, we trialled and implemented some new theories and technologies through the business. All sites moved to split water filtration solutions for espresso and filter brews, with softer reverse osmosis water for filter brews and higher open bypass cartridge filters for espresso. Essentially, we now have harder water matched to the reduced volume of water used to make espresso. This worked well with the ek43 turbo shots we have been brewing at 6 bar pressure for quite some time now. I have been revisiting quite a lot of water theory as we work on finally writing 'Water for Coffee 2', which I am now glad has taken a while, as there is much more to talk about as the industry has explored water in the 8 years since the first book was written.

We have explored utilising a colour sorter for certain coffee pre- and post-roast, and have also evolved our roasting approach in search of balancing character and complexity with cleanliness. Every year we taste a lot of new coffee, but we have also been revisiting past and producers whose work we love. The freezer in the roastery has been around for a few years now, and it is fascinating to taste 3 harvests side by side of Esmeralda Gesha, for example.

For the past four years, we have been collaborating with the Gorongosa Project in Mozambique, which is a reforestation effort in a rural, post-conflict part of Central Mozambique, and it was exciting to launch a standalone lot of this coffee.

The coffee industry is deeply influenced by the global macro-economic climate. The devastating impact of war, combined with the lingering effects of post-Covid inflation, has led to a notably unstable economic landscape. In terms of pricing, the 'C' price for coffee now hovers below last year's peak, yet it's still above the levels seen before the 2022 spike. The cost of production at a farm level has continued to rise, and the most challenging position is created by unpredictable and volatile weather patterns. The weather in Brazil now means the prices could be volatile again next year. The EU anti-deforestation legislation comes into force next year, which requires importers to be able to prove through polygon mapping that coffee was not grown on land deforested post-2020.

The trend of highly experimental flavour profiles has continued. There are the coffees that are like fruit beers with ingredients added or infused, but perhaps more influential are what I have been calling “high intervention coffee.” These would be coffees that use ozone to kill the local bacteria and yeasts, allowing a highly curated bacteria and yeast culture to be used to drive flavour during wet processing. I do think some of these coffees are extremely well executed, even if for me the process more often than not dominates a bit too much. One of my musings is that as these processes become more understood and recognised, we will have a scenario where, like wine, both are recognised and understood in context, whereby you have both high and low intervention coffees, and of course, there’s a gradient in between.

We are lucky to collaborate with a number of people and companies that allow us to explore and experiment with our own coffee and our understanding of it. One such project is a grinder project that uses a new way of grinding coffee that is neither flat or conical burr-led. Grinding is definitely one of the most challenging parts of making good coffee, and it's exciting to see the potential for significant progress in this area. The coffee community continues to see more technical and scientific research discourse as our understanding of coffee keeps developing. There is still much to discover and understand. It feels like a lot in the world is unstable and unpredictable. Great coffee demonstrates an ability to provide not just special moments in people's day, but the ability to bring people together around a common passion for this special drink.

I feel very grateful to work in coffee and am appreciative of all the support we receive at Colonna. I would like to thank our wonderful team in the roastery and the cafes this year, who have done an outstanding job. I wish you a restful and restorative holiday season and that you connect over a delicious cup of coffee.