A Perfect Storm in a Coffee Cup – The Ariosa Coffee Story
Coffee was once seen as somewhat of a bad habit, but, more and more, its health benefits are making headlines; said to protect against dementia, reduce pain, enhance your memory, and even your life. Though Michael Kelly, founder of Ariosa Coffee concludes “to be honest I think people will drink it no matter what the latest news article says.”
For Michael the allure of a cup of coffee lies in the complexity of flavour, the provenance of the bean, and the care taken when roasting; any health benefits are a welcome bonus.
Michael talked to us about the importance of single origin, speciality coffee, treating coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, and how consistency is the secret to the perfect cup of coffee.
Michael’s coffee thirst for all things coffee began while working in a café in Australia. “I was intrigued by the passion customers had for quality and consistency in their coffee. Getting to know the roasters who sold us the beans, and spending some time with them I started to learn a lot about the coffee world,” says Michael. “I would even go to the library. I was never one for studying and the fact that I was in a library at all meant that I must be really interested in the subject,” he adds.
Spotting a gap in the market for quality coffee in Ireland, he brought this knowledge home to county Meath, and established Ariosa Coffee in 2003; one of Ireland’s first speciality micro coffee roasting company. What set Ariosa apart from what was Ireland at the time, “for the most part big commercial companies who dabbled in some good coffees, and a few smaller ones”, was that green coffee quality was a priority.
“I partnered up with Mercanta in London who were a purveyor of very fine green coffees, with full tractability and a good ethical policy. I started selling loose beans at farmer’s markets which were just roasted a couple of days before, this was a big hit with customers as they really didn’t have an outlet to get coffee like this in Dublin at that time,” says Michael.
At the beginning, getting people to sample this unknown brand was a challenge, he Michael, as was educating people “that coffee is not ‘just coffee'”.
“It’s a complicated product with many quality differentials. I used the comparison to wine a lot, to get folks to try understand that huge selection and flavour profiles that existed in coffee.”
Ariosa have built reputation for serving only the finest, freshest beans, and have mastered the skill of achieving the perfect desired quality every time. “All the coffees taste different and if you’re creating blends you need to be careful that as a roaster that you are constantly trying to keep your signature blends because your customers expect that. It’s easier said than done though because coffee is an agricultural product that changes from season to season so understanding the flavour of your coffee is super important,” Michael says.
With the growth of coffee culture in recent years, has come a consumer with a more discerning palate. As such, Michael says it’s more important than ever that each and every batch of coffee meets the high standard Ariosa has set for itself. “Consistency is the name of the game now. People hate getting coffee that is burnt one day, bitter the next, so they go to places that offer consistency.”
Starting with the very best speciality coffee is the best way to ensure a consistent product, says Michael.
“Everything we buy is speciality graded. Speciality coffee represents about 10% of the world coffee production. Simply put this is the same as a chef looking for the best ingredients for their restaurant. It’s the first positive step to creating a great product.”
Partnering with growers from Africa, Central and South America and Indonesia, Ariosa has over 15 single origin coffees onsite at any one time. “Single origin is a term used to describe coffees from a particular area, wine companies would use the term estate maybe to describe a similar product,” explains Michael. “It’s important for the communities that live in those areas, and, for us, to know that farmers are getting a fair price for their hard work is just proper order.”
Another crucial component to getting that distinctive Ariosa flavour in every batch is their dedication to slow roasting. “Slow roasting gives the beans a chance to develop properly in the oven”, Michael says of the importance of their traditional slow approach.
“Temperature needs to be managed because each bean varietal is different and needs to be treated that way. Blasting the beans causing loads of different effects that essentially aren’t good for the beans.”
The result is that the distinct taste of each type of bean is accentuated, which is intensified after a lengthy resting period.
The oven is the heart of the whole operation at Ariosa, but just as important are their well trained roasters. 11 years into the game Ariosa have a solid team of coffee addicts, roasting aficionados and hard working people; all with a shared drive and love for coffee. “Although my business is very small, the team believe in the brand and are interested in it being successful. I believe everyone should know about what their business does,” Michael says.
With coffee culture in Ireland on the point of boiling over, Michael says there has been a wave of micro roasteries opening across the country in response. “The artisan movement is strong in Ireland now, with the beer, cider, whiskey thing happening also. I think coffee is just so important now that this was inevitable to happen. It’s also relatively inexpensive to set up a roasting business, you could probably realistically do it for a 10k investment.”
Many of these roasters, and cafés, and even chains, are claiming to do ‘proper coffee’. Ariosa too runs with the tagline ‘We are Proper Coffee’, but Michael says these words are more than just jargon for him. “One of my customers was in a new coffee shop, and while the barista tried to convince her that she should love ‘fruity coffees’ because they were on trend she told him that she loved our coffee, he scoffed that Ariosa was “for the masses”,” explains Michael.
“Hearing this I thought that ya he is right; our coffee is accessible to everyone, so we started incorporating word ‘proper’, as it lets people know that we are inviting everyone to drink our product.”
Ariosa are the beans of choice in The Cake Café, FoodGame, Lillyput stores, The Good Food Store, Hansel and Gretel bakery, and the Pepperpot Café, and can bought online too. “Everyone is drinking coffee on the move now, but the home market is growing too, and at weekends people want to relax and drink good coffee,” Michael says on the importance on making Ariosa coffee available in their web ‘store’.
Popping up on café counter tops are a variety of brewing devices; chemex, V60, siphon, Aeropress, each one more intricate than the next. Michael says that while each method has a different brewing time, and grind, that can effect flavour, often theatre is what attracts people to them. “I have a friend who just puts coffee into a steel jug, pours water into it and strains it into a cup after a few minutes; he loves it! Its good brewed every way as long as the coffee is of a high quality, and is freshly roasted in the first place.”
Though the sourcing, roasting process, and flavours of Ariosa coffee are complex, Michael is a man of simple pleasures. “Once I have a French press and great beans I am very happy,” he says with a smile.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.