Roaster of the Week is a series that focuses on specialty roasters and their unique stories. This week, we speak with the founder of Triple Co Roast about his journey from home roasting in California to carving out a space in Bristol’s competitive coffee scene.
Few places capture the imagination quite like California. Home to an enviable array of startups, cities, and sprawling national parks, it’s almost impossible to come away without having been inspired in some shape or form.
When Jo Thompson was in California, he was struck by the region’s thriving specialty coffee scene, particularly the roasting side.
Having grown up in Bristol in the UK, he’d headed to the West Coast to study at a theology school – but he was quickly sidetracked by coffee.
“I moved to northern California for two years,” he says. “It was beautiful, full of pine trees and mountains; pretty much the opposite to LA.
“When I was there, I saw loads of people roasting in cafes all over the West Coast. I thought it was pretty cool, so I bought a small roaster – a Gene Cafe – and started roasting at home.
“I read a lot of books, listened to podcasts, and basically fell down the rabbit hole that I think a lot of people do with roasting.”
With the help of some friends, Jo put together a plan for a roasting business, which he named Triple Co Roast.
Once back in Bristol, he rented a corner of a bakery and started roasting coffee, some of which he sold online. Anything he hadn’t roasted, he stored under the floorboards.
“We were drilling up the floorboards and putting sacks of green coffee under them,” Jo tells me. “That was when I realised it was probably time to move to a bigger place.”
However, the first year of roasting wasn’t without its challenges. Bristol’s specialty coffee scene is fiercely competitive and a small number of household names have had a firm grip on the market for years.
“That first year was tough to crack,” Jo says. “Other coffee companies in Bristol are quite big, but I think what we offer is a bit more of a personal and direct relationship with customers.
“So if they want a bit more of a connection with the coffee, from roasting to farm level, we can offer that.”
Triple Co’s three pillars
Direct relationships, both with producers and customers, is just one of the three core values on which Triple Co stands – and which gives the company its name.
The other two, Jo tells me, are high-quality coffees and accessibility.
“We always buy high-grade, specialty coffees that are clean, sweet, void of bitterness, and taste good,” he says. “That’s got to be number one.
“But we’re also open and transparent. Basically allowing customers to come in, ask questions, have a poke around the roastery, and see it all happen.”
Contributing to this open-door policy is Triple Co’s showroom and training space, where people are encouraged to dip their toes into the coffee industry and learn more about how their favourite brew is made.
It’s also a big part of where the Californian influence comes in. Jo says that when he was living there, other roasters would welcome him with open arms and lend a patient ear to all his questions.
“That was so pivotal to me getting into the coffee industry,” he explains. “So I always wanted it to be part of our business. We don’t want specialty coffee to be this closed door.”
But accessibility isn’t just about making a particular way of doing things open to everyone; it’s also about embracing new ideas from far flung corners, whether a method of brewing or a style of roasting.
“Just because someone in Oslo prefers a light roast and someone in Seattle prefers a slightly more chocolatey roast, I don’t think you can say which one is better,” Jo says.
“As long as the green is high quality and some care and thought has gone into how it’s been brewed, then it’s good coffee.”
Return to origin
Few coffee businesses came out of the Covid-19 pandemic unscathed. And even for those who did manage to navigate their way through, the effects of lockdowns and the ensuing changes to consumer habits have left marks on the industry.
For Jo, one of the biggest challenges the pandemic threw up was the widespread ban on international travel. It meant, among other things, that he and the team were unable to nurture their relationships with coffee growers.
“We couldn’t go to origin at all, which sucked big time,” he says. “When you go to origin, it’s one of those grounding moments when you realise what it’s all about.
“You kind of forget about that when you’re just doing day-to-day business – you forget where your product comes from. So that’s probably been the worst thing for me.”
As a roastery that not only prides itself on its direct relationships with farmers, but relies on them to stand out from the competition, this was clearly a blow for Triple Co.
However, the pandemic also opened up opportunities. While their wholesale partners more or less shut up shop for the duration, a small online market began to emerge.
“When we were in the middle of it, we just had the online because no wholesale customers were open,” he says. “It sort of came out of nowhere, but we’ve managed to retain a bit of that, which has been nice.”
They also continued to support their wholesale partners with technical support and machine servicing, something they’ve offered since the very beginning. If anything breaks down, whether a grinder or espresso machine, Triple Co is on hand to fix it.
This plays into their overarching philosophy of keeping the coffee going – never letting the supply run dry.
It’s why they stored coffee under a bakery’s floorboards, why they pushed through an intensely difficult first year, and why they’re now coming out of a global pandemic stronger than before.
To Jo, coffee is a necessity – no different, he says, from a slice of bread.
“In Italy, they class coffee as a food group. Some people will only have a coffee for breakfast. So why is that any less valuable than, say, a slice of bread? I don’t think it is.”