Moon Roast - From Moonlight to Coffee Delights

Raluca Judele
Moon Roast - From Moonlight to Coffee Delights

Our visit to Moon Roast back in March was an eye-opener. Set in the beautiful countryside of Hampshire on a farm that's been given a new purpose, Moon Roast isn't just a place to get coffee, it's a journey into a family's passion for the craft.

Meeting the team behind Moon Roast was an enlightening experience. Fran, the founder, exudes a passion for coffee that is palpable, reflecting in every aspect of the Roastery's operation. Dan, the head roaster, combines precision and creativity in his approach, continuously pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with each batch. Meanwhile, Jimbo, who manages training and dispatch, showcased his expertise by crafting some truly exceptional coffees for us.

Fran Bradshaw, who started Moon Roast, follows in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, who was a coffee broker in London back in 1900 and his father, who crafted iconic coffee blends. Fran's expertise was sharpened through the daily cupping rituals. This deep history drives his commitment to always making top-notch coffee.

"Moon Roast" is a nod to their humble beginnings, roasting beans under the moonlight. It's a heritage they cherish, symbolised by the barn owls in their logo.

But Moon Roast is not just about nostalgia. Fran has propelled the business by prioritising direct relationships with coffee farmers, ensuring they receive fair prices. This commitment to ethical sourcing enhances the flavour and quality of their coffee.

Dan's journey started with the more mundane tasks of packing and training, but his dedication and passion for coffee has seen him grow into the more refined art of coffee roasting. His personal development is a reflection of the company’s growth, inspiring us all to reach for our own potential. Dan's pursuit of the perfect roast is a journey of complexity and precision. His meticulous process of trial and error, tasting, and adjusting is a testament to his dedication and expertise, leaving us all intrigued by his approach.

Fran and Moon Roast remind us that behind every cup of coffee is a story of people, past and present, all connected through the rich, dark tapestry of coffee.

Find them on Instagram.

If you can't watch the videos, here are the transcripts:

Fran Bradshaw - Founder Moon Roast

I'm Fran Bradshaw, Francis Bradshaw. I started Moon Roast back in 2012. I worked during the day and roasted in the evenings as a way to start the business. I was working in my barn for about three years and wheel-borrowing the beans from the road in the front back into the back garden for several years. And then we moved up into the farm here, where the buildings, these are grade two listed buildings and they've been converted really mainly disused buildings, farm buildings, that have been converted into a Roastery.

The idea behind the name

Moon Roast, roasting under the light of the moon. And we actually, we had a group of barn owls that were living in the area, so hence that ended up as part of the logo.

A voyage from origin to present

But there's a little bit of background to why I started in coffee. Going right back to my great grandfather in 1900, who was a tea and coffee broker in London. We all started at Plantation House in Mincing Lane. And he learned the tea and coffee trade. And it went on, my grandfather worked there, and then my father and my uncle. My dad was sent to Ceylon, my uncle to East Africa to learn the tea trade. And from there on, my dad worked for Lion's Tea and then was recruited by Nestlé to develop Instant Tea, which never really took off. So he's moved to coffee and he sort of helped develop Gold Blend for Nestlé in the 70s, really.

I suppose I saw the specialty grade coffee scene really sort of starting to grow and that was what I was interested in. But sort of based on what my dad was doing, you know, he used to cup a lot of coffees in a day, sometimes up to a hundred of Brazil coffees in a day. So, you know, I learnt my sort of basic skills from him. We've organically grown here at Moon Roast from just myself and my wife helping out.

Then we recruited Dan, who's our head roaster, and he's been with us actually almost seven years to the day. We have a Probat 25 and a Loring 35 kilo roaster. I still roast particularly when people are away or on holiday, and so that's part of my day.

Thoughts on speciality coffee

My background is in agriculture, so I studied agriculture. So I've got a keen interest in the farmer, right back to the smallholder at origin. So we're keen to sort of support those small farmers and make sure that they're getting a fair price for what they're producing. But also I think it works well in specialty coffee where they're getting rewarded for quality, you know, and it's encouraging farmers to increase quality and process in the best way. There's lots of interesting things going on there.

Direct and Fair Trade

It's difficult for a small roastery to do much direct trade. In time that might be what we do more of. Last year two of us went to origin which was quite nice to build the connection with our suppliers. Dan, our head roaster, went to Uganda. I went to Peru in September. So in fact we've just launched our Clever Neyra from Peru just recently. So he's a small holder farmer, one and a half hectares, doing a great job of really producing some lovely coffees. And he's come a long way. You can see how he's seen the benefit of doing things well and it's interesting to see how he's developed. What he's doing there, the best method really is to use a number of coffee hunters if you like out there and send us samples and really select from those samples.

Quality check and final products

I'm quite involved with sourcing of green coffee and in cupping. So we're regularly, from a quality point of view, we're cupping all our coffees a number of times a week. And then there's the other reason for cupping when we're actually searching for new coffees to bring in. So we tend to have, we've got our core range of coffees, which are generally similar, so year in, year out. And then we have an explore range as well. So we're bringing in, there's probably on average a new coffee every month. So, and they are slightly lighter roasted, probably a bit more suitable for pour over filter type purpose, but can be dialed in on the espresso machine. From the beginning, you know, our sort of go-to espresso blend is Moonshot, which is Brazil-based with a natural Ethiopia. And it's got broad appeal, you know, for those necessarily, you know, haven't necessarily tried specialty coffee, but it's a good introduction into it. It's easy to dial in if you're at home. It's not too difficult to, you know, you're not wasting a lot of beans trying to dial it in at home.

Processing Methods

We're always looking for new interesting coffees and new origins as well. And there's so many new processes coming in now which makes it quite fascinating. And we're quite picky about what we choose and only really try and choose some really interesting coffees whether it's washed, honey processed or fermented. Anaerobic fermentation, we've had some nice ones of those come in, which reminds me of my farming days. It's a little bit like making silage, where you cut the grass, put it in a clamp and you totally seal it up with no air. And there it anaerobically ferments. And when you open the grass clamp, it's beautiful grass, sweet grass smell. Smell, not so much taste, but in a way that's what they're doing with coffee in this method and producing some amazing results.

Education Offers

With our wholesale customers, we try and give them as much background information really, so we always invite them up to the roastery. You know, they see the whole process right from... We run through right from the farm and how coffee's processed, and then they see the roasting process and then we go on to cupping and obviously the training on the espresso machines. And then we offer ongoing support.

On the other side of things, we offer home barista courses here in the training room. And so there's a big take up on that. People sometimes bring in their own machines as well, so they can really get the full experience. 

We do coffee tours, which are another coffee roastery tour. So it might take up to 15 people and we'll, again, they'll get to cup coffees where in often you don't get a chance to taste coffees alongside one another, so it's interesting to take something like a Sumatra and against an Ethiopian, against a Guatemalan and actually see the differences. 

Moon Roast's aim

It's always been our aim really is to bring better coffee to everyone and not be... We don't want to over-complicate specialty coffee really, so, a little bit where we're coming from, you know, we're moon roasts but we're down to earth. We don't want to be a factory of coffee at all, we want to be known for quality and consistency. We're not telling people you should drink this because it's the best but let people find out for themselves and give them the choice and you know it's up to them what they like and sometimes you know it takes a little bit of time to convert from some more commodity grade coffee to a specialty.

Much needed relaxation

I have a black Labrador which I take out every day. Probably actually before I get to the roastery, I normally walk her up the farm behind the roastery. So yeah, quite a dog walker. And you can sort out quite a lot of things when you're out walking the dog. 

We do like, as a family, going down to the West Country, we do quite a bit of surfing and bodyboarding. All I've got three sons all into the water and surfing and all that sort of thing. So we're down there a fair bit. 

We're all quite keen on our sport with various things. The family play rugby, quite a lot of tennis, and basketball, you know, so we're all quite into our sport. 

Other than that, I don't know, it doesn't seem too much time when you've got three sons, there's always something going on, so there's not a massive amount of time for hobbies at the moment, I have to say.

Dan Beaver - Head Roaster Moon Roast

My name is Dan, I'm one of the head roasters at Moon Roast Coffee. I started off working in hospitality. I did an espresso course for two days in Auckland. From that two day course I realised, oh coffee is actually cool. I didn't really enjoy the taste before, I used it more as a caffeine spike to keep myself going but seeing how coffee is made, how it's processed, the lot of detail behind it, that actually spiked a bit of interest.

After a bit of travelling, I was able to work in a cafe in Auckland, in like an art centre cafe, and working more as a food runner, but then I was able to then take a bit of barista role here and there, learning from the head barista, and I knew that coffee was kind of the thing that I wanted to do. So once I got back to the UK, I was like, get my mindset, work in a cafe, gain more knowledge and understand how to make coffee more efficiently. The position at Moon Roast arose where they were looking for their first member of staff. So I thought, why not just put everything into what I've just said and head back from Fran the next day. So I thought, come up, come and check it out. And then it kind of stemmed from there.

Personal and Company Growth

Originally I was doing more packing and training and I've grown over the years as a business has grown to be more of a roaster. I've really enjoyed what roasting coffee is like and I've tried to stay true to keep with the consistency and the quality and consistency high, which is difficult to do, but with processes and understanding it makes it a lot easier. Over the years we've really developed how we roast our coffee from a bit more of a darker sense, especially when specialty coffee was new and Hampshire was quite low in terms of the roasteries and the cafes. But now we've gone to a nice lighter sense that it still has traditional body, but a lot of brightness and sweetness. So now we're bringing in better coffees at higher grades and showcasing them. And we've got a bigger core kind of audience. 

Moon Roast has been, yeah, very slow, very methodical, like fought it through, tried to, you know, not expand too quickly. Otherwise you can burn out and lose kind of the character of what it is. And I've just been quite fortunate to kind of ride that wave, grow with the company and decide where that company wants to go as well. So it's been, yeah, it's been quite good being side by side with Fran. And now we're a team of 10, but we've got some really amazing individuals that we work with and most, all of them kind of understand what we're doing in terms of pushing, especially coffee, to not just the nerds, the geeks, but everyone. Yeah, it's just good to be along for the ride. 

Origin Experience

A couple of years ago, I was able to spend a week out in Uganda, which was hosted by the importers that import some specialty Ugandan coffee, as well as some other East African coffees. They're called Omwani. They're based up in York, so really good guys. Then took the whole flight to Amsterdam and down to Rwanda then jumped up to Uganda with the guys. So it's good to go with some like-minded people. There was nine or 10 total people and they're all from different roasteries. So it's showing these UK roasters, you know, what coffee is from Uganda and how it's grown and produced. Omwani work with a processing mill who buys coffee from the farmers. So they're called Agri Evolve. So we saw their new processing facilities and it was great to, as a roaster, see how coffee is processed, because I do so many roastery tours and explanations to on training courses of how coffee is processed, but actually seeing it in person has really helped to understand the difference between natural and washed and what a coffee cherry actually is in your hands because we get the green coffee, so it's before that. 

Thoughts on processing methods

My favorite process kind of differs. Every coffee is quite different and you could get an Ethiopian coffee that you process naturally washed, anaerobic, carbonic and they all have different flavors. It's really good for us to showcase. We currently have a, what we call Ethiopia Trio, because we have three different Ethiopias, which have different processes. And I think it's key for us to showcase that to customers, not to, not just to sell the product, but to showcase what each process is and how it differs in terms of flavor. So yeah, my, I tend to go for like a really bright, clean style natural. They're harder to find, but when you get them right, it's kind of like tasting Ribena. So when I've done training courses here, I can really go deep. I love explaining about the different processes of what's happening during the roast, but I can see sometimes it kind of glazes over. So we're trying to make specialty coffee a little bit more approachable and understandable to not just the nerds, but to everyday people.

The best out of coffee

There's quite a big process into how to get the best out of a certain coffee. The first thing we look at is what end result do we want and how do we get there? And it's a lot of trying and error, there's a lot of tasting, but then we try one roast to try another, see how it is, try different developments, and then it's trying to come to that end taste. But getting to that end taste is quite difficult and sometimes we get a coffee and it tastes, let's say 80% good, but it's really hard to get those extra 2%, 3%, 4%. So we do find some, a profile that is easy to replicate. So then we're able to consistently get that same roast because we could have one roast that is like perfect on the espresso machine. It's like a God shot, but it's gonna be really hard to replicate that roast style every time. So it's finding something that is easier for us to manage. So then every customer that gets up that Brazil from month one to month three should taste the same. 

Probat vs Loring

We're quite fortunate that we've got two different, quite big different roasters. One of them is a Probat traditional drum roaster, that's kind of like a tumble dryer, but with a flame underneath. So it's more traditional in terms of flavor, a lot more bassy, weighty, earthy notes, roasty characteristics, kind of common coffee flavors will come out using the Probat more conduction style roasting. And then we have the Loring, which is more of a hot air roaster, kind of like blowing, using a hairdryer, putting that through a drum. So that brings out a lot more kind of clarity, brightness, sweetness, less frostiness. So we're quite fortunate that we can stick with one green coffee bean and treat it through different roasters and we can get different flavor profiles.

Consistency in Roasting and Coffee extraction

Radu:

Am I right in thinking that you'd rather have a consistently 90% result like all the time? 

Dan:

Yeah, I feel like only a few people are going to taste that extra 5% if you roasted it to that 5% because we've got a product that then has to be extracted, it has to go through another process which is extraction either through a espresso machine or filter and most of the time it's not in our hands. So we have to make the best that we can to be consistent so it's got a wide range of extraction times in case the barista finds it difficult to dial in. There's so many variables in extracting coffee and roasting is the same as extracting a coffee through a espresso machine. It's all about playing with those variables. And if you try and stick to those variables, you should get the same end result. So as a roaster, we're doing the same as a barista, but just in a different sense.

Coffee Roaster Position - Expectations vs Reality

All you see on kind of social media and online is just somebody standing next to a roaster, but there's, there is a lot more to it. And it's, it's sometimes hard for a person if they want to be a roaster, what that job entails without seeing it. Day to day, it involves a lot of lifting, a lot of scheduling of what you need, what you need to be roasted either for the day, or you might be a roastery a little bit bigger where you've got to have a certain amount of power stock. So it really depends on the size of the business, what that roaster has to do in terms of how much and when. For me, it's eyeballing what is currently happening in dispatch, what the guys need, and when to roast it. Now there are a lot more sophisticated systems out there where they'll look at exactly every order that comes in and then you get a report. And that's where kind of every business will differ. It's a production job, but there's a lot around it with tasting the coffees and you know the coffee that you're roasting is going out to cafes and restaurants who are going to do well. And people are going to buy it for home use as well, so enjoy the coffee. 

If you are interested in roasting, definitely try and get into a roastery and just have a chat.

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