OK, I’ll level with you. Over the past six months I’ve gotten a touch bored with beer. Last year’s Beer366 kind of burned me out and writing about beer grew pretty tiresome. I got sick of trying to come up with witty descriptors; bored with reading about the latest and greatest bars and brewpubs; fed up with spending hundreds of pounds of bottles and bombers.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve continued to drink some world class stuff, attended some great festivals at home and abroad, and even bashed out the odd magazine article or two, but the passion just isn’t there at the moment. I have two Tyne and Beer Metro posts almost ready to go yet can’t find the words to finish them.
I’m hoping Bristol Beer Week will re-ignite my boozy fire which, at the moment, is barely clinging to life. Instead of hitting the bar with alarming regularity I’ve cut back the boozing to a bare minimum, dramatically improved my diet, and got myself a personal trainer.
However one thing I have missed as my beer levels have dropped is flavour; the subtle nuances of a stout or the balanced bite of a double IPA. But I’ve found a replacement beverage to keep my palate more than ticking over: coffee. And this week I found time to take it one step further thanks to the wonderful north east coffee merchant Pumphrey’s.
Pumphrey’s has a long history in my home town, first established by a gentleman named Leigh Smith in Newcastle’s creepily named Flesh Market, opposite the Bigg Market, in 1750. It was sold to George Richardson in 1800. Richardson was described as a “Quaker, businessman, tanner, grocer and dealer in tea.”
After 35 years in the game he was succeeded by his son Henry and the street which had previously been renamed Union Street now became the Cloth Market as it is today. Henry Richardson had two nephews - Thomas Pumphrey and George Richardson Pumphrey. See where this is going?
In 1853 George, aged just 23, purchased a grocery business in Blackett Street, Newcastle with Thomas as his shop assistant.
A year later Thomas joined his uncle Henry in the Cloth Market business as Henry Richardson & Co. until uncle Henry retired in 1858. Thomas formed a partnership with his friend T. Carrick Watson who would run the Blackett Street business as Pumphrey & Watson for seven years until 1869 when Watson became sole proprietor. Following years of hard graft, Thomas Pumphrey died aged 78. His business continued to thrive and ‘Pumphreys Coffee’ became a household name throughout the north east.
Pumphrey’s remained a dominant force in the north east for years. Their store in the Cloth Market, with its very busy roasting department and coffee rooms above, continued to flourish. My mother has often mentioned her frequent trips to the coffee rooms while working in the city.
In 1974 the grocery side of the business had to close and a decision was taken to move the coffee side of the business into the Old George Yard (behind the shop) and continue to supply the catering trade from there. This would free the main building for sale, which was in great demand for use as a public bar. Sadly this went on to become one of the many god awful boozers occupying the Bigg Market. However, there’s talk of a huge overhaul in that area. In fairness a Sarin gas attack would sort it out in the short term, but it would appear there are plans afoot for a boutique hotel and new bars. I’ll believe it when I see it.
In 1983 Pumphrey’s Coffee Ltd. was purchased by the Archer family and its place of business was moved out of the Cloth Market for the first time in over 230 years. The business moved to Blaydon on Tyne, home of the Blaydon Race, where a new 40,000 sq ft factory has provided warehousing and roasting facilities with excellent positioning for distribution.
The firm went on to offer more than 80 different coffees and teas all freshly prepared with the traditional Pumphrey’s care and attention to detail. In 2002 Stuart’s son (Stuart Lee) joined the business and introduced a vastly improved range, along with all relevant up to date training.
They have since extended their showroom at Blaydon giving customers a one-stop-shop for not only their coffee but also all the various associated products such as crockery, glasses, disposables, sugars and chocolates. They stock a fantastic range of high-end coffee machines to give even coffee enthusiasts like me the caffeine-infused horn. From Aeropresses to V60s, Chemex to Syphons; their Blaydon base of operation is the perfect base for all your brew methods.
Upstairs they have a dedicated training centre where they provide City and Guilds-accredited courses on coffee, coffee making and machine maintenance. For the past ten years Stuart Lee Archer has trained countless baristas before they have gone on to set up their coffee shops. He has played in a part in helping to train Newcastle’s Joe Meagher, the man behind the wonderful Flat Cap Joe’s on Ridley Place. Joe is one of the shining examples of Newcastle’s burgeoning coffee cultures and was a finalist in this year’s UK Barista Championships; a hell of an achievement.
On Monday I visited their Blaydon base to take part in their introductory Barista Training. The course was lead by Stuart Lee Archer who, over the day long course, took me on a whistle stop history of coffee, including bean selection, coffee storage, espresso extraction, milk texturing, drink presentation, grinder maintenance and cleaning and much much more.
Getting to spend a couple of hours playing with super expensive Italian espresso machines was a hoot and while my cappuccinos would undoubtedly be sent back (looking more like they were served up by someone with chronic vibration white finger) they still tasted pretty damn good.
Getting to learn what goes into make a perfect espresso was fascinating, with Stuart splitting the drink into its constituent parts and illustrating the massive variances in aroma, mouthfeel and flavour that under and over extraction can cause. The course was hugely beneficial in helping to understand how subtle changes in preparation can dramatically affect your coffee.
Stuart remained on hand to talk you through lighter and dark roast coffees and explain the types of flavours you could expect to experience. It was like a beer tasting but, you know, with coffee.
Another treat of the day was the tour of the roasting room, where I got to see the equipment used to make Pumphrey’s signature roasts. This was about as far from super high tech, lab conditions as you could get. Instead it was old school pulleys, gears, cables and fire. Fantastic! Seeing the changes from green beans to the finished product was fascinating and learning about the variances you can experience from farm to farm, season to season, stoked my interest even further.
It was a superb day and I can’t recommend it highly enough. While it’s unlikely that Emma will allow me to drop big money on a top-of-the-line espresso machine I’m now all too aware that a new grinder is on the horizon to help improve the flavour of my home brews. I fear my coffee consumption is about to increase exponentially.
Next time you’re in central Newcastle be sure to pop into Pumphrey’s Brewing Emporium in the Grainger Market where you can pick up your supplies and have a have a coffee in the UK’s first covered market to boot. Or, like me, pony up the entrance fee to learn more at their Blaydon headquarters. You won’t be disappointed.