Ouseburn Coffee

Ouseburn Coffee Company resides in a black concrete box of a building, across a bridge from The Cluny near the mouth of the Ouseburn in Newcastle, where I move aside for a small herd of long-eared goats straight from biblical times.

Inside the box is a sensational smell of coffee and a surprise: the pleasant and rather dapper Simon Bonnin has a twin brother, Peter; not identical, but not far off.

Two cups of coffee later I turn the page in my notebook and it comes clean away in my hand.

“It’s the caffeine,” Simon remarks, chivalrously sticking it back in with Sellotape. The coffee is making me giddy. At least, I think it’s the coffee.

What actually is funny, as in curious, is how much there is to say about coffee, bearing in mind that here at Newcastle’s new and only independent roastery, they only have three different kinds.

Simon, Peter, and business partner Ali Hammond import green beans from around the world and plan to substantially grow their range. So far, there’s the Sumatra Pure Lintong from the high volcanic mountainsides of Indonesia and Yellow Bourbon from the high volcanic mountainsides of Brazil; high volcanic mountainsides being good for coffee.

Then there’s the first of what they’re calling their Heritage Blends, which they’ve produced for the 150th anniversary of the Blaydon Races, taking the name from the infamous character Coffee Johnny (immortalised in the sixth verse of the song – a 6ft 7’’ blacksmith and bare-knuckle fighter). “We’re thinking about creating one for the Jubilee as well,” Simon says.

The guys are taking their time selecting the next region for their business and they take great pride in introducing what they call the ‘Third Wave’ of coffee to Newcastle.

“People travel more now and are discovering independent producers and coffee shops that are a world away from the generic lattes that they’re used to,” explains Ali, friend of the twins since his teens (they’re all now in their early 40s). “We’re all more into the idea of craft beer and good wine and it’s a similar with coffee.” That’s the Third Wave: the First Wave was the instant coffee which arrived in the1960s. The Second Wave was the arrival of Starbucks and the like with ‘to go’ cappuccinos and skinny lattes in cardboard beakers.

At the back of the boxy premises is a gleaming machine; the roaster. It reminds me of something. “Noo Noo?” Simon suggests, eyeing it with love. Yes. The vacuum cleaner in Teletubbies, all grown up. Simon travelled all the way to Turkey, where he also studied the art of roasting, to buy it and bring it home.

Its presence is almost magical. The raw, scentless, split pea-like beans go in through one shoot to be roasted and just 10 minutes later tumble out into a bucket, now all dark brown and impossible not to pick up and smell. We stand for a moment in respectful silence.

“The best possible way is to drink it freshly ground,” Simon explains. “It oxidizes quickly. And use it within two to four weeks of grinding. Ideally, two weeks.”

They sell it ground or unground (you can very good grinders these days, apparently) and we sample the Yellow Bourbon, which Simon describes as smooth, caramelly, with a hint of hazelnut. “When beans get to a certain temperature, the oil turns partly to sugar. We try to get that process during the roast to make the coffee as palatable as possible.”

With hot milk, it’s gentle and flavoursome at the same time; chocolatey and lovely. Without milk, in espresso form, which we have a few minutes later, it’s entirely different; more tangy. “If you look it has a lovely yellow colour,” Simon says, “and the flavours develop as it cools. It should leave a pleasant aftertaste. And if you aerate it slightly (slurp), you get some more citrusy flavours coming through. That acidity is highly sought-after.”

This is considerably more caffeine than I’m used to. At tastings, Peter says, you’re supposed to swill and spit. “Although better quality products with no preservatives leave you feeling better,” says Peter.
I’m high, rather than jittery. It’s a nice feeling.

“Some say you shouldn’t have milk after 10am, but I’m not one of your purists,” adds Peter, who, unlike his brother, is also partial to a little sugar. “There’s a natural sweetness in heated milk that’s not as apparent as when it’s cold, but I’m a philistine.

“They say Yellow Bourbon is a coffee for tea drinkers; a good place to start. I used to work in pubs in the Ouseburn Valley and if you give a lager drinker hard-core real ale they’ll struggle with it, but if they try an IPA they might like it. Coffee’s a bit like that. Once you get used to it, you start to notice the subtleties and it becomes more pleasurable. That’s what the Third Wave of coffee is really about.”

This month sees the opening of the nearby Espresso Bar in the Ouse Street Arts Club; a social space open to the public to view art and drink coffee. Like a cafe? “A social space,” Ali repeats. Peter’s vision for the black box sounds more accessible; a few tables outside for anyone to stop off and grab a specialty coffee and a biscotti.

Getting home, eating supper, watching telly and so on later, I can’t sit still. I pack an ironing board and a mountain of clean washing into the boot and drive to my friend’s, where we have our first-ever ironing party (to be recommended – it makes light of the king of monotonous tasks).

There is clearly more to a cup of coffee than twisting open a jar of Nescafe. And I thoroughly recommend the Bonnin brothers’ blends.
Ouseburn Coffee Company, Foundry Lane, Newcastle. Buy online at www.ousburncoffee.co.uk, at Foundry Lane, or at Simon’s stall at Newcastle’s Sunday Quayside Market. The company supplies Fisherman’s Lodge in Jesmond Dene, The Cluny and other Head of Steam pubs, Flat Caps Coffee in Haymarket, and Deli Express on Salters Rd, Gosforth, Newcastle

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