April in the roastery is all about sample roasting and tasting. This is a super busy time for our coffee buying team with all the new crop samples coming in from Central America. Each coffee is sampled before shipping, after shipping, and on arrival to make sure the coffees are tasting great and ready to go on the counter. This year, for added fun, we have an extra complication of a serious container shortage. The container shortage hasn’t been caused by the big ship in the Suez Canal, although that certainly didn’t help, but as a result of the pause in world trade during the pandemic and a lot of containers being in the wrong place when things started up again. In Europe and North America there are empty containers stacking up to return to exporting countries but the slowdown in clearing them has meant that ships are returning empty to port. This has made securing an available container in coffee exporting countries a bit of a game of chance and nerve. There is a lot of competition for containers amongst the various shippers and trade routes and we are expecting delays over the rest of the year as new containers are made and the current world stock gets back into its usual routine.
Even though we are expecting delays we have some terrific coffees arriving, when they arrive. From El Salvador, Malacara A and La Divina Providencia; from Guatemala our counter staples Capetillo and Santa Catalina. La Bolsa will make a return to the counter in 2021 as well as some smaller lots from our good friend Eduardo Ambrocio. In Costa Rica we have a new coffee El Cedral alongside Telia, Chico, Chinito, Cabécares, Montes de Cristo and Las Lajas. And our shipment of El Pastoral from Nicaragua has been instructed and should be on a boat by the middle of this month.
The shipping delays have an impact on all goods not just coffee. Our packaging is also subject to delay and you may find yourself with a blank bag at some point over the next couple of months if you haven’t already! There is a shortage in adhesive shipments to the UK as well, so we are hoping for a just-in-time delivery to our supplier so they can make our next round of labels for us.
So while everything is all skewwhiff on the water we have reopened our drinks and pastry counters in our shops. We have pastries from our friends at Little Bread Pedlar and some sweet and delicious treats from Sally Clarke – yes that includes the chocolate truffles. We have put up more screens in Covent Garden and Borough Market and will be trialling different ways to run the orders and pick-ups to see what works best in the current circumstances. All the now-usual-things apply, please wear a mask, use a card or contact-less payment and mind all the social distancing.
We know it is going to be some time before we can reopen the seating areas in our shops. The earliest date on the roadmap is May 17th but what we are able to do at that point will depend on the social distancing measures still in place. The sampling room at Covent Garden is a small space and we will need the rules to relax significantly before this area is open again for customers. Our shop in Borough Market is larger and we hope by the time the next easing is announced, no earlier than June 21st, we will have some idea as to the numbers of people we can have in our shop and how to go about accommodating everyone in the space if we can.
Ignoring the shipping shenanigans and basking in our mini heatwave at the end of last month, being able to see more friends and family and the vaccine roll-out still rolling, things are looking up!
Go on, get out the spring jacket.