Our featured roaster for the month of May is Fortitude Coffee from Edinburgh. Founded by husband and wife team, Matt and Helen. They’re new to roasting coffee, but have a well-established speciality café right in the heart of Edinburgh. Given how good their coffee tastes, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were veteran roasters. I sat down with Matt for a coffee and a chat in their café to ask some questions on how they got started.
Who is Fortitude Coffee?
Fortitude was founded by Helen and myself 3 years ago in March 2014. I already experience working in a café and Helen had been running a small, independent book store so knew how to run a business. My role is roasting and sourcing coffee, Helen makes sure the business is in order and oversees our branding and shop design. We both spend time on the bar when we can.
How did you get started?
My path in coffee started at a café in a mainstream department store. The coffee they served was truly awful. However, it gave me my first experiences using an espresso machine and peaked my interest in coffee. I started reading about coffee, watching videos online, visiting the new cafes that were opening and most importantly; drinking a lot of coffee.In November 2013, Helen and I started to talk about opening a café. Helen, at the time, was running the book shop and was confident in managing a business and I had the barista experience.
The project really kicked off when the perfect location became available. We found a small unit in an ideal central location, surrounded by interesting businesses including a comedy club below us.
Fortitude Café only took around 6 months to establish itself as a leading café in Edinburgh’s booming speciality coffee scene, serving coffee from some of the leading coffee roasters around the UK and Europe.
Where did the name come from?
The name came from the idea of being small, but mighty. We always knew we’d have a tiny little café, but what we aimed to do would be something outstanding. The name coincides with the idea that everyone needs that first coffee of the day to build up their ‘fortitude’.
Matt mentions that Helen and himself came up with the name quickly. Given how long we fought over the name for Cloud Coffee, I can’t help but be jealous!
We just got that feeling immediately about the name.
In early 2016 Matt decided to start roasting coffee himself. By the end of the year, they had a coffee roaster and were serving their own coffee by January 2017.
What was it like setting up a new roastery?
When we decided to start roasting our own coffee, the first task was choosing a coffee roaster. I started by thinking about the coffees that I enjoyed, the more memorable ones that I had served over the years on the bar. I also looked to other coffee roasters that I was most inspired by. Most were using a Diedrich Coffee Roaster, so I put two and two together, deciding that that was the roaster for Fortitude. The one we ordered is the Diedrich IR12, a 12kg mid-sized roaster, that came in a beautiful orange colour, it really stands out.
One of the biggest challenges for Matt and Helen was getting the coffee roaster into their little warehouse in the north of Edinburgh.
I was assured by Diedrich that installation would be quite simple, but I don’t think they had accounted for our warehouse not having a loading bay. Luckily it squeezed through our door with mere millimetres to spare. We had to use some real Egyptian pyramid inspired manoeuvres to roll the coffee roaster into place.
Matt describes his excitement when he roasted his first batch of green coffee beans on the newly installed roaster;
It was definitely a leap into the unknown. I started with a Columbian coffee called Las Galaxias sourced by Nordic Approach. The plan was just to practice on this coffee. I had no idea what to expect, it was a brand-new machine and a new batch of coffee. Surprisingly, I was so happy with that first coffee that I ended up serving at our café. It was super sweet as an espresso. It was a real boost to my confidence.
How would you describe your coffee style? Where did you learn to roast?
I aim for sweetness. From my experience with coffee I always enjoy that initial sweet wash of a well brewed coffee, it almost comes alive with brightness, and aim for a clean finish. My filter coffee style I’m happy with, for espresso, I’m still experimenting.
We’ve had Fortitude for over 3 years, I’ve learnt a lot about what the customers react well to. From there, we can tailor our coffee to something we know will go down well. I’m aiming for our coffee to be accessible and enjoyable.
Matt talks about how reading and trial and error has been his approach to roasting coffee.
The way I like to work is to load up on as much knowledge as possible; read loads and speak to people with experience. The roasting community is happy to share knowledge and ideas. Working on the bar, you have to be very methodical. Weighing the coffee for espressos, timing shots, measuring the TDS (total dissolved solids, a measurement of the amount of coffee bean that has been dissolved into the final coffee). I take the same approach with my roasting, everything is measured exactly. Roasting, cupping, brewing over and over until I’m happy.
How do you source and select your coffees?
I work with various green bean suppliers. I started with Nordic Approach, they were incredibly helpful in helping me get started in learning more about sourcing coffee. I had the chance to go over to their base in Oslo to learn more about the operation and taste some coffee with them. It was a great introduction to the process.
In terms of choosing the coffee, I usually have either a taste profile or origin in mind that I then go about sourcing. I’ll sample roast a lot on our Ikawa sample roaster. It’s hard not to be seduced by coffee with a good name, so we always blind taste the coffee to keep it impartial.
These days, green bean suppliers are very transparent with the origin of the coffee. I know exactly what farm or co-operative the coffee is from.
What does the future hold for Fortitude?
Down the line, definitely a second location with enough room to introduce a brunch menu. Build up our roastery and wholesale. Share my knowledge, I really enjoy collaborating.
On that note, any advice for anyone just getting into Speciality coffee?
Buy scales! It’s the best way to be consistent and you’ll notice your coffee improving instantly!
Our May subscription boxes go out on May 8th and will include up to 3 different single origin coffees from Fortitude Coffee Roasters. If you’re not already a subscriber, be sure to sign up before May 3rd.