Who are Echelon Coffee Roasters?
Echelon Coffee is a small speciality coffee roasters based in Leeds. They opened their roastery in 2018 with the goal to bring the best coffee globally to the Yorkshire region, in the most ethical of ways.
Their coffees, predominantly Afircan all rank high on the cupping scale, are leading in the area and have a range of tasting notes that really do say what they do on the bag. With single order options as well as regular subscriptions you should consider Echelon as your next coffee purchase.
Rwanda – Dukunde Kawa
Origin – Rwanda
Process – Natural
Altitude – 1900-2200m
Variety – Red Bourbon
Tasting notes – Plum jam sweetness, strawberries and cream, galaxy chocolate. Balanced and intense
Cupping score – 87.25
Ben’s comments: Dukunde Kawa comprises three washing stations, and has over 1,000 members. Most of these smallholder producers own less than a quarter of a hectare of land, where they cultivate an average of only 250 – 300 coffee trees each as well as other subsistence food crops such as maize and beans. Dukunde Kawa gives these farmers the chance to combine their harvests and process cherries centrally. Farmers who work with Dukunde Kawa have seen their income at least double, and the co-op produces some outstanding lots for the specialty market year after year. ‘Musasa’ means ‘a place to make a bed’ and ‘Dukunde Kawa’ means ‘let’s love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda – a reference to the power of coffee to improve the lives of those in rural communities. This particulatr coffee is incredibly sweet, with notes of plum jam, strawberries and cream and milk chocolate.
Our thoughts: I was really looking forward to this, with tasting notes of plum jam, strawberries and cream, galaxy chocolate – this is right up my street. I brewed it this week using AeroPress only – plenty left over to try other methods mind – and it was truly outstanding.
The aroma was a light, chocolate-like smell, quite sweet but with a cocoa bitterness. After some time in the cup there was a fruity afternote, likely in line with that plum jam tasting note. If I could put a wick in this coffee and turn it into a candle, I absolutely would.
Black, this single origin was a well balanced, medium bodied coffee that had a fruity, chocolate taste, but similar to the aroma, a bitterness that arrived late but left a lasting aftertaste. The plum jam comes through subtly giving it a fruity acidity expected in a quality of this standard. With milk, the dukunde kawa excelled; chocolate, creaminess with a malty base, it was just awesome. No sourness, no saltiness, just a smooth, medium roast that does exactly what it says on the bag.
Ethiopia – Bookkisa
Origin – Ethiopia
Process – Natural
Altitude – 2000-2100m
Variety – Gibirinna, Serto
Tasting notes – Banana and berry mix, maple syrup and layers of blueberry muffin and melted butter with a heavy body
Cupping score – 87.5
Ben’s comments: Bookkisa is the name of a sub-kebele (hamlet) where the Bookkisa group of 33 farmers are located. The average farm size of each member is 2.55 hectares. The coffee grows under a canopy of natural forest, which is typical of coffees grown in the Guji area. All of these farmers are trained in agronomy and post-harvest practices.
What’s unique about how these drying stations are managed are the drying beds themselves: each day lot is tracked with a tag for each bed, listing the specific delivery date, the start date of the drying process and moisture content readings for each day. This high level of care and attention to detail helps the Bookkisa group of farmers to turn out some spectacular coffees. This natural coffee has a real thickness on the palette and has notes of blueberry, maple syrup and butter.
Our thoughts: I can’t start anywhere but with the aroma of this roast. The second the package is opened the sweet berry smell hits you. Get your nose in and it’s exactly as the tasting notes say; buttery, almost muffin-like but that sweetness stays. Not typical of Ethiopian coffee at all I was intrigued to taste.
At a very high altitude again, this coffee is a top speciality roast, with high cupping score to match. This origin was definitely one that didn’t need milk; even if you like a milky americano, or a latte, this coffee, whichever brew method, is sweet, creamy and has a lovely burnt muscovado aftertaste. With milk I felt you lost some of the depth of the sweetness and it was overpowering so I’d 100% recommend this black.
Meet the roaster – Ben
Let’s start simple, what are the origins of Echelon, what’s the story of how the journey began?
It was a bit of an accident. We’d been over in Belgium, working in the Brussels EU bubble and decided to move back to the UK to take up a job offer I’d had, but the job fell through! Fortunately my partner (herself a former manager at Opposite café in Leeds) had also received a job offer, so we were able to move back still. I needed to come up with something to do, and had been developing an interest in “third wave” coffee for a while, especially in filter coffee. While we were in Belgium our neighbour was a former Belgian Aeropress champion and coffee consultant with her own bar (and now roastery), so I’d been trying to soak up as much of her knowledge as possible. I’d visited quite a few roasteries in the UK and Belgium by this point, and felt it was something I’d like to get involved in if only as a hobby. But the timing seemed right to start a full roastery and just jump in at the deep end.
How is it being a part of the bustling Leeds coffee scene?
It’s great! I don’t think I would have even had the opportunity to start Echelon without the likes of North Star and Maude showing that there is real appetite for locally-roasted, quality-focussed coffee in Leeds, and the same goes for Dark Woods even if they’re near neighbours rather than being from Leeds itself. By now there are several really good independent coffee shops following in the footsteps of Opposite and Laynes, and that’s a really good thing for a small-batch roastery like Echelon because it means there just more opportunity for people to try speciality coffee and learn how it differentiates from what you’d get served at a chain outlet. It’s quite a mature scene by now, and even though there’s a good few speciality roasteries, it never feels like there’s any kind of rivalry. In fact it’s a very mutually-supportive relationship.
You take great pride in the roast profiles of your coffee, what is your relationship with your suppliers, and how do you source your coffee?
This is one of the most important parts of Echelon as a business. We’re such a small roastery that direct trade with producers in coffee growing countries isn’t really a tenable option. Fortunately, we’ve developed excellent relationships with key importers such as Falcon, Olam Speciality Coffee Europe and Nordic Approach who are completely focussed on ensuring that their relationships with farmers are ethical and genuinely beneficial – in many cases to the wider local community as well as the producers themselves. This means that when we buy and roast a coffee, we know exactly who produced it, where it was produced and processed and how the producers and their community benefit from the relationship with the importer.
With coffee still certainly in a “boom” phase, more people are appreciating good coffee, how do you stay on top of flavours and styles to be on top of your game?
It’s a a tricky question. There are, I think, some trends that are temporary (last year you couldn’t move for anerobic fermentation or barrel-aged coffees, for instance), and some that have proved themselves to be built on firmer foundations. For us, it’s mainly a case of ensuring that we cup as many samples as possible on an ongoing basis, and keep an open mind when it comes to origin and varietal. For example, one of the nicest samples I cupped recently was a Catimor varietal, which has kind of picked up a bit of a bad rep, but this sample was delicious. In general though, our approach is that we try to let the coffees speak for themselves without trying to do too much in the way of flavour manipulation in the roast. I think that approach has served us well so far and I don’t really see it changing.
You have a great range of roasts from all over the world, but what are your personal favourite styles to drink?
This is an impossible question! I think everyone probably has a soft spot for the first really tasty speciality coffee they drank – that experience tends to stay with you. For me it was (I think) a washed Yirgacheffe from Hasbean that I drank at the Opposite coffee hut (RIP) in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds. But by now I’m totally fickle and can’t even decide on my favourite brew method. I think it’s fair to say that I prefer coffees that have good clarity, a balance of sweetness and acidity and not much in the way of “body” or bitterness. But that’s what everyone likes, right?!
For our readers who know little about coffee, can you explain your process of getting the best beans to becoming your finished product?
We’re constantly receiving and testing samples from almost every coffee growing region via our importers. Once we’ve found something that really jumps out at us, we’ll make an order if it fits into our lineup. We’ll know from key bits of information like the coffee varietal, the way it was processed and the moisture content how it’s likely to roast, and what kind of roast profile will be most suitable. We’ll then do two test batches at slightly different roast settings, and compare the two. Once we’re happy that the profile is working well for the new coffee, we’ll drop it into the web store.
Our favourite coffee of the week was the Kenya – Gakundu AA, what can you tell us about that roast?
The Gakundu Farmers’ Society has about 1250 members in total, and the washing station is managed by Godfrey Gicovi who oversees all quality control to ensure high quality coffees are produced. From funds set aside from the previous year’s harvest, members of the co-operative can access pre-financing for school fees, sources of investments and funds for emergency needs. The long-term goal is to increase coffee production through farmer training, access to finance and education. This particular washed coffee has a sparkling gooseberry and rhubarb acidity, balanced by a buttery, brown sugar body.
We’re in lockdown and many of us stuck brewing at home. What are your top tips for getting the best coffee at home right now?
My key tips would be to get the best grinder that you can afford and pay attention to your water, especially if you live in London or somewhere else with hard water. You can buy the nicest coffee and it will taste dull and muted if the water you’re using isn’t right for brewing coffee. I recently got a Peak Water filter, and it’s made a big improvement to the water at the roastery to the extent that we now don’t need to use bottled water for cupping samples.
What’s the plan for the rest of 2020 for you guys?
I can’t believe were past halfway through it already! We’ve got some nice new custom recyclable packaging on the way which we’re excited about, and hopefully we’ll be organising some more cupping and cycling events once the lockdown restrictions get eased. Aside from that we plan to continue roasting the best coffee we can.