Bath’s caffeine scene just got even better with the arrival of The Colombian Company’s first café on Abbeygate Street. Melissa Blease has a flat white with the man behind the brand
Chemex or cold drip, aeropress or V60, reverse osmosis filtration systems and single origin beans… and that’s before you’ve even decided whether you want a flat white or a triple venti half-sweet non-fat caramel macchiato. On thing’s for sure, going for a coffee these days is nowhere near as simple as it was a decade ago. Back then there were fewer than 10,000 coffee shops in the whole of the UK (and a third of them belonged to the big three chains: Starbucks, Costa and Caffè Nero). Ten years on, and that figure has more than doubled, with one in five people visiting a coffee shop on a daily basis and speciality coffee shops seeing the biggest growth spurt.Bath, meanwhile, is particularly blessed with cool caffeine outlets – anybody who claims to be unable to find a decent espresso in the heritage city is just being silly. But there’s a new kid on the coffee block that’s bringing a uniquely South American twist. The Colombian Company’s founder, Jhampoll Gutierrez moved to England from Colombia almost 20 years ago. Today his lively, welcoming coffee shop in Abbeygate Street, which opened in November, showcases and celebrates the very best of the produce he grew up with. “My passion for coffee started very early on,” says Gutierrez. “For me, coffee represents a happy childhood. I was born in Colombia and used to love watching the coffee farmers walking around their farms with such love and care, the pickers choosing the best berries and the smell of the coffee drying under the sun. I would admire those huge trucks full of sacks leaving the farm and wonder how far that coffee would travel.”
But did he ever imagine, back in those days, that he too would travel thousands of miles… to Bath? “I came to England in my early teens to continue my studies but started working with coffee in my early twenties, which is what I really enjoyed,” he recalls. “Then, just over a year ago I decided to start my own company importing the best speciality green coffee I could find in Colombia. I only buy from small farmers and have direct contact with the producers, their families and the people who work for them, who swiftly become like family. I believe in paying a good price for my coffee, which helps the farmer invest in the farm and train his workers. Growing coffee is very difficult, and it should be appreciated.”Many in-the-know Bathonians will already be familiar with Jhampoll’s wares as he’s a regular face at Bath Artisan Market, Bath Brunch Market and Chandos Deli. He’s recently expanded his product range to include Colombian chocolate and Panela (sugar cane) too.
I confess to him my love of instant coffee at home, which could have easily have finished off our interview early, but Jhampoll, it seems, is a very patient man. “Instant coffee? I think we need to have a good chat about how to enjoy good coffee at home. It really isn’t difficult to make a good cup of coffee, and it doesn’t take very long either. If you start to take a real interest, as to where the coffee you’re drinking comes from, how it was dried and roasted, and who made it, you’ll start to taste it differently. It’s always a good idea to try different methods of coffee making until you find the one that works best for you, but I’m a great believer in letting people enjoy their coffee however they want to enjoy it. There really are no rights or wrongs. But in general, in the UK, I think people are starting to be more knowledgeable about coffee, developing an ability to differentiate good coffee from bad coffee and wanting to know all about the coffee’s journey to Britain. I can offer total traceability of all my beans, which is the main ethos on which my company is based.”
It’s also the aspect of Gutierrez’s business of which he is most proud. “Small Colombian coffee farms struggle to compete with big farms that are producing tons of coffee beans to sell to big companies,” he tells me. “I choose to buy only from the very small farms, which in fact produce amazing coffee and are run by whole families who are trying to make a living in a very competitive market. We pay a little extra to help the farmer invest back into the farm to produce even better coffee the next crop. “My company is based on quality, traceability and a direct relationship with the farmer; to allow those small farmers in Colombia to proudly show what incredible coffee they grow is really important to me. My objective is to keep growing and add another coffee house to my portfolio; as we grow, the farmers will grow with us.”
Gutierrez’s customers have proved to be open to new ways to take their coffee, with the Bombon (espresso and condensed milk) created by his Spanish wife Veronica proving to be a big hit right now (“It’s a little messy to make but people seem to enjoy it!”). Gutierrez is keen to get out and about in Bath as often as he can too, citing Society Café as one of his favourite caffine pit stops and Olé Tapas as his eaterie of choice.
But does he ever miss his home? “I’d love to be able to go to Colombia twice a year to visit the farms and keep learning about the amazing world of specialty coffee,” he says. “I still have family there too, so I’d say they are what I miss about home the most. I also miss the way of life in Colombia in general. No matter how poor people are, they’re always happy, and will always share the little they have with you. And, of course, I miss the weather!”
The Colombian Company, 6 Abbeygate Street, BA1 1NP
Tel: 07534 391 992; visit: thecolombiancompany.com