Spotlight: Foundry Coffee Roasters

December 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Posted in Features | Leave a comment
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foundry coffee

The great thing about Twitter is that it makes it easy to connect with local producers, cafes, restaurants and general foodie enthusiasts, which was how I came across Foundry Coffee Roasters a couple of months ago. After trying some of their locally-roasted beans, I’m happy to confirm that not only are they some of the friendliest people currently inhabiting the twittersphere, but their beans produce a cracking cup of coffee (you can read a short writeup here.)

To find out more about what makes the Foundry Coffee Roasters crew tick, I caught up with chief roaster Lee Newell to talk about the Third Wave, converting barbecues into coffee roasters and, of course, how to make the perfect cuppa.

Can you give us a quick intro to Foundry Coffee Roasters (FCR) How did FCR get started?

Lee: I’ve been engaged in a joyous search for great coffee for a good few years now. Sadly, there’s so little of the good stuff around that I have found myself spending a small fortune ordering beans from various artisan roasters on the web.

A couple of years ago, I decided to embark on a project to convert a barbecue into my own personal roaster (not quite as crazy as it sounds, loads of people in the US have done the same thing.) The idea was that I would source small quantities of green beans and roast them in my back garden, mainly for myself but also for a few friends. As I was designing the roaster, I started to read about the theory of coffee roasting and I got completely hooked. The combination of art, craft and science involved really appealed to me and it all became a bit of an obsession. I soon realised that if I was ever to move beyond the theoretical, I needed a real-life (and probably not hand-made) coffee roaster. A few conversations with a few like-minded friends and we decided to give it a go!

What do you feel makes FCR special?

Lee: It’s our absolute commitment to quality and the respect that we have for this wonderful ingredient. There is so much time, energy and care put into growing, processing, roasting and serving these very high quality beans, and we love being a part of that process. I also really love Sheffield. Growing up in a city with such a rich heritage of skilled and dedicated craftsmanship has definitely had a big impact on me and I’m driven by that same passion for transforming raw materials into something really special. That’s why we chose our name; we’re proud of our heritage and we want to bring the values associated with the steel and cutlery industry to our coffee roasting.

Your ‘Third Wave’ blog has a lot to say about how people’s attitudes towards coffee have evolved over the years. How do you see the coffee scene in 2012 – particularly the Sheffield coffee scene?

Lee: I think Sheffield is teetering on the brink of embracing the ‘third wave.’ It’s a pretentious sounding term but really it just means taking the next logical step, past the Starbucks/Costa thing and into a new coffee world where the beans are much higher quality, they’re only ever served fresh, and the drink is always delivered by someone who really understands how to get the very best out of the bean. Although there are one or two decent cafes in Sheffield, there are nowhere near enough and we are a bit behind other large cities in the UK in this respect.

This makes Sheffield a really exciting place to be right now. We are really looking forward to working with those local cafes who really want to focus on high quality drinks made with locally roasted beans. Coffee is often likened to wine in terms of the importance of varieties, the growing conditions and processing methods; but unfortunately it can, like the wine world, also feel intimidating for the newcomer. As a nation we are used to drinking over-roasted, poor quality beans in huge cups of badly heated milk and so what we offer is very different. It’s so rewarding when people taste good coffee for the first time, it’s a revelation but we also need to be mindful of the fact that it can feel risky for a cafe to move away from the traditional drinks that people have become accustomed to.

You opened in March this year, what has been the highlight of the past few months?

Lee: The last 9 months have been pretty full on for us. Our place in Nether Edge is fantastic but installing the roaster was really complicated. Getting everything working properly and dropping the first beans into the cooling tray was the first really exciting moment for me. A roasting course in London and an advanced barista course recently have also been highlights. Personally I love the fact that I learn something new every day. The coffee community is very warm and friendly for the most part and we’ve been lucky to get some really valuable help and advice along the way.

At your blog, you’ve written about how you enjoy introducing people to good coffee for the first time. What advice do you have, for people who are moving to beans from ground coffee, on how to make the perfect cuppa?

Lee: You can make good coffee in a cafetiere so you don’t need really expensive equipment. There are other inexpensive brewing methods, check out the Aeropress or the Hario V60, both of which can be had for less than £20. Anyone can dramatically improve the taste of their coffee by only ever grinding the beans immediately before brewing. Air is the enemy of freshness and ground coffee starts going stale within minutes so grinding regularly, especially for artisan roasted beans, is essential. If you’re going to invest any money, invest most of it in a grinder.

We’ve put a few brewing guides on our blog to help people get started but the real fun is in
tweaking things to get your coffee exactly as you like it. A couple of quick tips:

  • Use water that has boiled and then been stood for a minute or so.
  • A ratio of 30g of coffee to 500ml of water is a good place to start for most methods.
  • Store your beans in the bag with a rubber band around it and don’t put them in the fridge or freezer.

Finally, what are your plans for Foundry Coffee in 2013?

Lee: Other than the never ending search for really exciting coffee, we have a few things we’d like to focus on next year. We’re hoping to get into a few of the cafes that we really like and try to get our coffee out to a wider audience. We’ll go in and spend time with the barista, working together with them and their machine to ensure that they get the very best extraction from our beans. We are hoping to invite them down to the roastery so they get to see a bit more of the bean’s journey. I’d like to really focus on Sheffield and I’m completely confident that we will have a handful of cafes that can rival the best in the country, it’s a really exciting time.

I’m also keen to hook up with a competition barista or two; it’d be great to get our coffee in the barista championships. We’ve been using local markets to brew coffee for curious newcomers; I really love seeing people’s reaction and hope to do a lot more of that next year too.

You can find out more about Foundry Coffee Roasters at


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