Five Positives We’re Taking from Lockdown

Jack Miller

Like many people, we came into 2020 with big plans and real enthusiasm to make this a productive and a hugely successful year. Whilst we haven’t given up on this there have been some fairly major disruptions and curveballs that have been put in the hospitality industry’s way.

In amongst the uncertainty and worry there have been some great moments and important reminders to be thankful for the support of those around us; whether that’s a friendly neighbour who has helped ease the loneliness during isolation or a key worker who has gone above and beyond to safely provide essential services to those in need. This is a small collection of some of the highs we will be taking away from the last few months.

Community spirit

At Ue Coffee we pride ourselves on being a recognised and respected name within the local community. Even before the lockdown was initiated, we could sense the impending changes to the hospitality industry, due to the fact that Dominic and Daniella our company directors have family in Modena, Italy and they could see and hear how the pandemic was unfolding there. Our first thoughts were on how we could adapt to these changes to be able to continue serving our local community.

When the lockdown was first announced people started panic-buying and clearing off every supermarket shelf in sight. We responded quickly enough that within 48 hours of cafes being forced to close we converted our roastery cafe into a fully functioning farm-shop and home-delivery service (and one of the only places in Witney and the surrounding area still serving speciality barista-made coffee to go).

A quick turn-around; overnight transformation from roastery café to artisan produce farm shop.

Over the first few weeks the products and shop layout were constantly changing with new deliveries coming in every day as we responded to our customers’ needs and requests. We even had loo roll and toiletries for sale when some of the bigger supermarkets had sold out.

A big part of this transformation was the introduction of the home-delivery service. So many people were forced to stay at home due to ill health and vulnerability, but most supermarkets were experiencing in excess of 3-4 week delivery waiting times. We were able to offer our online grocery service to be delivered within a 15-mile radius of Witney in less than 48 hours in most cases. Our record for the fastest delivery is 15 minutes from online order to doorstep drop-off; needless to say, the customer was astounded!

More importantly, we were able to provide those in our community who were affected the hardest with essential groceries when they really needed it, in a safely managed and convenient way.

Saturday events at our roastery on Windrush Ind Park in Witney have become a weekly occurring matter. It started with a take-away cream tea on a gloriously sunny VE Day in early May. We wanted to provide something for people to be excited about and get out of the house when everything else was shut. The outdoor espresso cart was in full flow, we sold reems of scones with clotted cream, jam and strawberries. It was so well received that we tried a new theme for the next few weeks; drive-through coffee, doughnuts, Texas BBQ. We’ll have some more surprises being unveiled at the roastery to look forward to in the coming weeks so keep an eye out.

Supporting other local businesses

There are so many incredible small businesses around the Cotswolds and it was heart breaking to see so many of them in difficulty and forced to close, not knowing if and when they would be able to re-open. We are fortunate to have some great relationships with local artisan producers:

A few such small businesses include The Bread Shed in Charlbury and Sourdough Revolution in Lechlade; two quite distinctive sourdough producers both bringing in their delectable freshly baked loaves still warm from the oven. If you time it right, you could be taking home one (or as many as you can carry) of these loaves within an hour of baking.

We have also been stocking a selection of the rapeseed-based products from Cotswold Gold who use only the crops from their family farm in the Worcestershire Cotswolds.

Cackleberry Farm is another fine example: based at Stow-on-the-Wold, their eggs are infamous throughout the area; “within each one was a golden treasure – a yolk so fine it gave pleasure beyond measure.” These have been very popular with visitors to the roastery and online shoppers alike.

With suppliers like these it is not surprising that locals are willing to make the pilgrimage all the way out of town to the Windrush Industrial estate to take home the best of the Cotswolds. We are here to welcome you with fresh produce 7 days-a-week and of course our baristas are still serving those amazing take-away coffees. Come and pull up a pew with us outside the roastery before you head home!

Retaining a workforce

This has been a particularly difficult time for anyone working in hospitality. Many have been unable to continue working and with a huge drop-off in our wholesale business we were in the agonising position of having to reduce our workforce to a level that could be financially sustained. We have been like a large family over the last 11 years and it was a crushing blow to the entire team and will be one of the darkest moments in the companies history.

Ue Coffee Roasters was born at the start of the last recession, so Dominic and Daniella knew firsthand that some very difficult and incredibly tough decisions would have to be made and the speed of their response was critical. Some staff have been fortunate to benefit from the Government’s furlough scheme and the farm-shop and the online home delivery service has been able to sustain around half of our original workforce thanks to the lightning fast adaptations that we made in the early weeks.

Giving Back

We have all witnessed the strain put on the NHS during this time, which is why it has been great to give support to those working for the NHS to help fight COVID-19. Right at the start of the lockdown we donated a coffee brewer and 16 kilos of coffee to Witney community hospital to help keep them going on those draining 12-hour and longer shifts.

We also took the opportunity to release one of our new coffees, the incredible Ethiopia Guji Shakiso which we called the Nation's Cure, in an NHS-branded medicine bottle. A great coffee for a great cause; 25% of the proceeds from this coffee was donated to the NHS charities COVID-19 urgent appeal. Only a few bottles remain on our shelves for those who still hope to experience that delectable strawberry aroma when cracking open the seal for the first time.

Many of you will recognise the black bag with the pink label; the infamous Solidarity Blend. We lost 90% of our business as our wholesale customers began to close their doors, so we had a lot of green coffee in the roastery but far fewer people buying it. This was a great opportunity to both utilise the stock and provide something new and exciting for our customers. This went on sale for just £5 for a 250g bag, £2.50 of which went straight to Witney foodbank. This volunteer-run project has been a lifeline for many, providing food parcels and emergency supplies to people in difficult situations. We hope our contribution from the 1000+ bags of Solidarity sold will help the foodbank in the coming months.

Time for development

Lots of people wish they had more time to do other things; hobbies, DIY, learning a new skill. Lockdown’s restrictions have forced people to stay at home with no entertainment facilities open and no more commuting time wasted. Although we certainly haven’t been twiddling our thumbs by any stretch of the imagination, we have had an opportunity to make some revisions to our coffee offerings. Many of our regular customers will have noticed the change in packaging. This is a positive step towards a lower CO2 footprint as the company who produce this packaging, Dutch Coffee Pack, invest in CO2-reducing projects in coffee-growing countries – we are delighted that the bags themselves are 100% recyclable.

There’s been a significant change to the coffee inside the bag too. We're now working with a larger proportion of high calibre speciality farms and interesting micro-lots, with the quality judged at every step of the process, from the coffee cherries on the farm to the moment we seal the bags in our roastery.

Coffee that is considered ‘specialty’ standard must have been grown at particular elevations and be of a certain variety of plant; often the farmers have developed their farming techniques over generations. After all of this the coffee is roasted, tasted and scored out of 100. This marking scheme is made up of a number of the coffee’s attributes; acidity, body, aroma, uniformity, defects and so on. A licenced taster, known as a Q-grader, has to award a score of 80 or above for it to be considered specialty coffee.

We are proud to share our selection of excellent single origin specialty coffees in our cafes and online. We roast each of them to highlight their origin characteristics and the result is a delicious, full flavoured, well balanced coffee.

Another area that we have been working on is our training facility. Coming very soon we will be offering a full range of training courses for everyone; from home-brewing courses for the budding home-barista to full SCA-certified training for professionals looking to take their skills to the next level and get qualified. We have a great range of equipment at our roastery including the La Marzocco KB90, Linea PB and Mini along with an array of Mahlkonig and Mazzer grinders as well as a roastery floor fully equipped with an armoury of Giesen roasters. Come and see the new layout for yourself; you might even get to sip your coffee while watching our team roasting, bagging and brewing the next batch of speciality coffee beans.

Our thoughts are obviously and will remain with everyone who has suffered hardship or loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a truly unprecedented moment in history, with everyone being affected in one way or another. I hope that there are some positives that you can take from the last 13 weeks, even in some small way, and we hope to see you again very soon.