Before joining Artisan Coffee Co., Ashley was Heston Blumenthal’s right-hand man and Chef Director of The Fat Duck Group. Widely acknowledged for his talent, tenacity and imagination and after over twenty years leading Michelin-starred teams, Ashley now brings a chef’s view to the world of speciality coffee.
Inspired by the great champagne houses and harnessing his culinary skills, Ashley has lead the team at Artisan to conceptualise coffee in a revolutionary way, championing the use of blends and perfecting flavour notes to create the ultimate cup of coffee.
The world of coffee is quite a change from 20 years at The Fat Duck Group. How did you end up on this journey with Artisan Coffee Co.?
It was all quite serendipitous. Artisan’s founder and I share a mutual passion for restaurants, cars and cycling and our paths have crossed a fair bit over the years. Early last year he came to me to tell me about a new coffee venture he was looking to launch, and to ask me whether I’d be happy to taste-test his blends and give some feedback.
I spent many hours meticulously brewing the coffee, getting under the skin of the target customers and starting to delve into people’s relationship with their daily brew. What is it about particular profiles that people crave, how do these differ and how every aspect affects the way we choose our coffee?
Very quickly I realised that I could bring a new perspective, drawing on my culinary past, the sensory side of my career from my time in Bray and an ability to approach this in a really relatable way. I called him straight away and we decided to work together to create a range of unique blends and characterful coffees, balanced with clarity of flavour, but accessible to many.
I’ve always been a coffee fanatic, but what attracted me to Artisan Coffee Co. was the opportunity to innovate and tackle coffee from a different angle.
As a chef everything we did had a reason, bringing innovation, with a meticulous approach to techniques and maintaining an unwavering focus on quality and flavour. That’s what I’ve brought to Artisan Coffee Co.’s coffee range.
What makes Artisan Coffee Co. so special?
We take a flavour-first approach to coffee. By giving our coffee’s a character, we are able to describe them in a way that doesn’t require you to be an expert to understand or imagine how our coffee will taste. There is often so much information on varietal, altitude, process etc, that so few people actually understand how this translates to taste; we want to talk to our customers in a way that doesn’t intimidate and restrict them from trying something new, and ultimately a different experience when you brew at home.
We have worked painstakingly with leading Q Graders (the coffee industry’s equivalent to a wine sommelier) to create unique and masterful blends with the world’s tastiest beans. We have finely tuned our coffees for consistency and have created our first six flavour profiles to suit every palate. There is something for everyone. Whether you prefer a deep, chocolate- and fudge-forward morning brew, or something with a little more complexity, acidity or fruitiness, our blends are to be both approachable and exciting.
With our launch range of coffee, it doesn’t matter how you brew. Whole bean usually is the best way to buy coffee, however in reality it requires a bit of work. So we have applied knowledge to pack specific coffee blends in optimum condition ready to brew. Accessible, can also mean less work or knowledge required to allow people to brew a better coffee at home, with less work and equipment in some cases. More convenient formats are pre ground filter portions, pods and coffee bags, but each character has been finely tuned and roasted for the range of different brew types. No Matter how you brew, we have a coffee character for everyone.
How did you approach creating the six blends? What was involved in the development process?
When I create a new dish or start the process for a new restaurant concept, I always begin with a visual sketch, this is just the start but most importantly it helps to pass on that vision to the team. For our coffee, I emersed myself in extensive customer research that the team had gathered, really getting under the skin of people’s relationship with coffee, how and what people looked for in their cup. Combining that with my own interest in coffee I created a profile Map, showing inherent characteristics of specific coffee’s and where they sit on an approachability scale.
Combining technology, science, innovation and expertise with creativity - to make it happen. We realised quite early on that there was a huge opportunity to talk to people in a relatable way, through a taste and flavour approach. I believe that this is the first coffee company that has a Michelin-starred chef driving their development process, combined with challenging the norm when it comes to aroma optimisation in ground coffee.
Once we’d decided on our character and flavour profiles, we enlisted the knowledge of a brilliant and experienced Q Grader on to the team. We carefully sourced beans from across the globe, sampled each bean individually, before combining them into a blend. For weeks we tasted recipe after recipe, sometimes tiny changes to the ratio or in some cases simply starting again as it just wasn’t good enough. You have to be prepared to fail in development, learning from the mistakes, retracing what worked well and regrouping.
We had simultaneous brew method blends working at the same time, optimised for filter, espresso & pods. They all required something different to hit the 6 characters and how we wanted them to taste.
Since day one, we’ve put a huge emphasis on science and innovation. This is something that became ingrained in me when I was working with Heston at The Fat Duck. When we were creating a new dish, we would consult the brightest scientific minds and experts in fields as diverse as, psychology, touch, smell, sound and sight. I wanted to bring this innovative approach to our development at Artisan Coffee Co. and it’s been great to go on this journey with the team.
We have challenged the way ground coffee is produced, right through to protective serves; we have innovations which allow us to optimise and preserve aroma, to ensure the very best brew, with no compromise, when buying pre ground coffee. Everyone knows someone that has an open bag of ground coffee, allowing the aroma to disappear and oxygen to do its damage too, staling the coffee in a very short time. This doesn’t need to be the case anymore, we have done the work for you and each brew will be the same from first to last.
How did the idea of the chocolate pairing come about?
The chocolates have multiple benefits, firstly they mirror the characteristics of the coffee, and cocoa level; using ingredients such as nibbed cocoa and salted biscuit, we have been able to elevate the sensory moment to another level. Secondly, for those who don’t think they are able to taste inherent character notes within coffee, the paired chocolate acts as a catalyst for the drinker; when you enjoy the chocolate and its respective coffee together the flavours truly amplify one another.
Whilst developing the coffees, I would make these little chocolate discs at home for the team to nibble on before tasting the blends so that they knew which flavours to expect and look out for. Quite quickly this developed into a more focussed process to launch our chocolate flights to accompany the coffees as we realised they should actually be such an integral part of the Artisan experience and not merely a taste bud cue for training.
Which blend do you tend to go for?
I enjoy them all and tend to drink what I’m in the mood for. At the moment I have The Smart Cookie in my espresso machine which is delicious; it’s a smooth, elegant espresso with biscuity, fragrant notes. But that said, I now have big decisions to make on which character to brew, whether as an espresso or a filter!