4th May 2012The Western Lake District: Where on earth do I start?

There is no right answer to this question. I thought long and hard and then decided to kick-start this blog the way I would anything else worth writing – with a decent cup of coffee.

I always think that specialist, independent coffee shops are one sign of a place that people love to live in, work in or visit. Where happy people lurk and visitors linger, coffee connoisseurs follow. So I went on the hunt for a caffeine-kick in Cockermouth.

Cockermouth is a surprise in lots of ways.  Wherever you come from, the colourfully painted houses, characterful streets and eclectic shop fronts tell you you’ve stumbled across a gem of a historic market town.  The concept of ‘whiling away a day’ was born here, along with that William Wordsworth.

But Cockermouth is also full of surprises. The Coffee Kitchen on Challoner Lane is one – a cool and contemporary yet passionately artisan coffee house and café that laughs in the face of those poor, unimaginative souls who think they can’t find a decent espresso or cappuccino outside city walls.

Andy and Angela Walsh, founders of the Coffee Kitchen, are frighteningly knowledgeable about coffee and encourage their customers to discover it in all shapes and forms. They provide information about where all their coffees originate (even showing them on a wall map along with the home countries of their international visitors), and they believe strongly in ethical sourcing. It’s true that anything tastes better when you know where it’s from.

I stopped in for some warming soup and high-quality caffeine. My coffee was the ‘house blend’ from Rwanda’s Café de Maraba Co-operative – sourced by Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. The soup was the day’s special: spicy split-pea served with two slices of the Coffee Kitchen’s own homemade bread. (Andy and Angela champion the Campaign for Real Bread)

But there’s more to this story…

When I discovered that the Coffee Kitchen run coffee-tasting events, I also discovered their close friends Carvetii who roast small batches of high-quality coffee at their roastery in Embleton, near Cockermouth. These guys are energetic in the coffee-tasting circuit and have brought the trend for ‘coffee subscriptions’ to the Western Lake District (freshly roasted coffee delivered to your door every month – yes please!). I think their name is brilliant – the ‘Carvetii’ were the Roman people who lived in what is now Cumbria and North Lancashire. You thought it was some Italian coffee reference, didn’t you? Me too.

Anyway, high on caffeine and ready to chat I got in touch with Carvetii’s founders Angharad and Graham to find out what makes them so special. Graham answered my questions.

Why coffee?

We’ve been involved in coffee since 2006, initially working in coffee shops to perfect our barista skills. We became interested in coffee roasting and entered a new and exciting world! Coffee can be compared to wine. The quality of a bottle of wine depends on the grape, the country, region, soil, climate and the weather in a particular year. This all influences the flavour of the wine – we’re all used to identifying different flavours in our favourite white or red.

Coffee is very similar. There are different varietals of coffee plant grown around the world. The altitude, climate, soil and weather in a particular year affect the flavour of the coffee. In addition the way the coffee is processed (i.e. the bean is removed from the fruit) and the subsequent storage all affect the flavour.

So the beans themselves are so important. But doesn’t roasting destroy their flavours?

It can. When we began roasting we started to discover all the flavours that are often hidden; we were taken by the challenge of capturing the beans at their best. We roast our coffee relatively light - roast too dark and the flavours are lost. Light roasting also reveals any imperfections in coffee, so we are sure to start with a good quality bean. Our current broker is Mercanta in London. These guys are great because we need to know where our beans come from and they have close working relationships with the farms.

All of this means that our current coffees have different flavours.  We have a Costa Rican that is sweet with treacle notes, a Kenyan with citrus grapefruit aftertastes and more recently an El Salvador with underlying strawberry flavours…

They all sound divine. I noticed you’ve created a Borrowdale Blend. What’s that like?

An aroma of marzipan, great body, sweetness and hints of black cherry can all be found in our 2011 Borrowdale Blend espresso. Served with milk, expect toasted hazelnuts and chocolate with a liquorice aftertaste. I personally drink it as a cappuccino – a single shot of espresso with well frothed milk in a 6oz cup.  With milk it is a very sweet drink.  I think that’s what makes our espresso stand out – it’s easy to drink, there are clear flavours to the coffee and you don’t have the bitterness associated with many espresso coffees.

Want to meet the roasters? Keep an eye on www.carvetiicoffee.co.uk as they’re always out and about giving tastings and talks.

Like the idea of a coffee tasting at The Coffee Kitchen? Visit www.thecoffeekitchen.co.uk.

Whitehaven - the perfect day out
Millom & Black Combe
Cockermouth
Ravenglass

Brian Sherwen Photography

Many images on this website have been supplied to us by Brian Sherwen.