Spilling the beans on great coffee

How hot a coffee house is boils down to how cool its beans are: Kate Ryan finds out more from expert coffee roaster Tony Speight
Spilling the beans on great coffee
Tony Speight of West Cork Coffee. Picture: John Beasley Photography

The West Cork Coffee Roaster Taking Cork’s Indo Coffee Scene by Storm Kate Ryan, Flavour.ie Cork has embraced its independent coffee culture, servicing an appetite for better quality and more nuanced speciality coffee, with impressive fervour. Independent coffee shops are revered; owners are influencers and are vocal in their demands for good people to never more be subjected to bad coffee. To spare Corkonians from such a fate, the Cork Coffee Trail will guide you to the city’s best independent coffee houses. But for all of this, the success of a coffee house boils down to how cool its beans are. Enter the speciality coffee roasters, and the newest kid on the block: Tony Speight of West Cork Coffee.

When Tony Speight hand built his first coffee roaster in 2004, whether he knew it or not, he had turned a corner from enthusiastic hobbyist to a seriously passionate artisan coffee roaster. The timing, it seems, couldn’t have been better for setting down an early foundation of what would become West Cork’s first commercial micro coffee roastery in 2016.

After years of slow, organic growth and a burgeoning cult status amongst his loyal fans, Speight’s coffee started to garner the attention of a small number of local food businesses with an appreciation of excellent coffee looking for their own signature roasts. Suddenly interest in Tony’s endeavours started to surge, along with demand.

West Cork Coffee is in the process of moving into its first proper commercial premises. “All of a sudden, orders for my coffee just started to sky rocket. I couldn’t keep up with the demand with the space and kit that I had.” Sooner than expected, Tony was facing into the decision of whether to stay small and turn away business or take everything up to the next level. Thankfully, he decided to set up the commercial roastery at The Old Forge in Innishannon, West Cork.

The size of the scale up is impressive. The roasting machine Tony was using for all his roasts up until a couple of months ago was a small but perfectly formed machine that had a capacity to roast apx 1kg of beans at a time. Next to his new Giesen roaster custom-built in The Netherlands with capacity to roast up to 6kg’s of beans at a time, it’s not hard to observe that Tony is still trying to catch his breath and take in how fast things are progressing. “I made sure I have plenty of room to fit a second Giesen when the time comes,” says Tony. Clearly he has done the math and sees even bigger things to come in the not too distant future.

Coffee roasting is a quick process – just 10-12 minutes for the perfect roast Tony says, with the flavours only really developing in the final 2 minutes of roasting. “Checking the coffee at all stages of the roasting process is vital to see how things are going. There are lots of factors that can alter the roasting process: from the beans themselves, to the humidity and environmental temperature – even the quality of the gas that is used to fire the roaster.” Aside from all of these almost immeasurable potential variables, there are those elements that can be controlled and is the true mark of the craft coffee roaster: conduction (the flow of heat) and convection (the flow of air), controlled by computer yet reliant on the roasters knowledge and expertise. And although all the data is stored in a very 21 st Century way, Tony can’t help himself but record every snippet of data from every coffee roast he conducts with pen and paper – the coffee roasters equivalent of measuring twice and cutting once!

Every element of Tony’s coffee is tightly controlled. He is hand selecting the beans he wants to roast. He is roasting depending on his needs and the needs of his customers, for having full control over the roast means that a little tweak here and there on temperature, humidity, time, maturation process can completely alter the flavour profile of the coffee: the same bean roasted, matured and brewed in a hundred different ways each producing a different result. After Tony roasts his coffee beans they are left to rest and mature for up to 7 days in drums, brewing a little every day to check when the beans are perfect.

Tony is keen to share his enthusiasm for roasting and helping people learn about coffee appreciation. “Coffee education is something I hope to promote. To be able to teach people about how much variety there is in coffee is absolutely key. Coffee should taste fruity as well as carrying deep rich flavours like chocolate, caramel and nuts. It shouldn’t just taste burnt and bitter – usually a sign that the coffee has been over-roasted to disguise the flavour of poor quality beans.” Having control over the roasting process enables Tony to roast beans for as short or as long a period of time as needed to uncover the full flavour potential of the bean. From a light-medium roast for a fruitier, more complex flavour profile to a dark roast for a richer, headier flavour profile – whatever work for the individual characteristics of any given bean to shine through.

So what does the future hold for West Cork Coffee?

There are exciting times ahead as more outlets start stocking and brewing Tony’s coffee right across Cork County, including a blooming relationship with Dukes Coffee Co in Cork City and Food Depot in West Cork (proprietor Diana Dodog, former Masterchef Ireland champions gourmet street food offering and all round local food champion) – proving to be a real confidence boost. Other coffee houses that showcase Tony’s speciality roasted coffee on a rotating basis are The Bookshelf and Warren Allen, or grab yourself a bag or two of beans from West Cork Coffee’s online shop. And with two new Cork coffee ventures opening in time for the summer, (SOMA in Cork City and Revel Coffee & Cycle in beautiful Glengariff), there is a definite buzz about the quality of coffee that Tony is hand crafting at his roastery, so expect the list of outlets stocking his very cool beans to keep growing.

www.westcorkcoffee.ie Twitter: @WestCorkCoffee

More in this section

Sponsored Content