At The Compass we have tremendous respect for entrepreneurs. A great book we’re reading on the subject says that it takes heart, smarts, guts, and luck to successively start a business. In our estimation, Sandows London has got what it takes. Sure, it may sound kind of risky selling bottled cold brew coffee in a country best known for drinking hot tea, but like their Victorian strongman namesake, Sandows London is defying the odds. We got the chance to chat with founders Luke Suddards and Hugh Duffie and find out what it takes to start your own company in one of the world’s coffee capitals.
Tell us a bit about yourselves. How did you find yourself starting a cold brew coffee company?
Sandows London is Luke Suddards (25) and Hugh Duffie (22) and we became best mates working together at TAP Coffee, where we’ve been for the last few years. (Luke 3.5 years, Hugh 1.5 years) We’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work as baristas, manage two of the TAP cafes and roast coffee too. We’re also flat mates and for 12 months we’ve been cycling home together and throwing around ideas to start our own business. We’re both a bit obsessed with drinks in general and we’ve taken huge inspiration from the booming craft beer scene here in London. We were making cold brew in the cafe and it was just becoming more and more popular but production was a real challenge whilst running some seriously busy shops. We spent a solid nine months developing our idea and sourcing everything we needed to start up and took a risk on the chance that with a push we could really make cold brew explode in London in 2014.
By our very biased American standards, the UK doesn’t get that hot. What has the reception been like? Do Brits like cold brew coffee?
Haha yeah we get a lot of people asking if we’re crazy. Especially when they find out Hugh is Australian, they just can’t get their head around why you would come from Australia to the UK to sell cold coffee. It is still so new that it is almost foreign to people, but that is why we’ve built a bar with cold brew on draught and we try to get out and introduce as many people to cold brew as possible in a friendly, pressure free environment.
That said, there is a really dynamic coffee scene here in London and people in the UK have to get the most out of their limited summer time and condense as much ‘summery’ activities into their lives as possible while the weather is hot. As a result their enthusiasm is amazing and it makes for an exciting market to be in.
How do you make your cold brew? Where is your production facility? Can we visit it?
Our 200ml (US 6.75 fl.oz) flasks contain a ready-to-drink version which we recommend over ice as two servings (not sure if this size would fly in the States!). We use an immersion style to brew our cold brew, using beer fermenters for scale. We use reverse osmosis filtered water provided by the popular Bespoke Water and we have just upgraded to a Mahlkönig EK43 and grind coarse with a ~16 hours steep time. We like to keep people guessing about our filtration as it was the biggest challenge for us to work out… sort of like of our 11 secret herbs and spices, if you will. We’re currently using a three stage filtration and what we end up with is a cloudy cold brew with great body. Think the difference between an Aeropress and a V60 – this is definitely like an Aeropress. Regardless of which coffee we are using, we aim to brew our cold brew to a set TDS and use this to allow for the dilution when served over ice.
We swap cold brew and shifts in the bar at Vagabond N7 on Holloway Road (Highbury & Islington Tube) for a small basement space and access to their RO water. We love visitors, you’re more than welcome! It is mostly storage for coffee, bottles, boxes and a small dry area for handwriting and sticking on the labels. Most people are most impressed by our transformer-like capping machine… it’s pretty sweet.
What coffee roasters are you partnering with? Are there certain coffees that work better for cold brew?
Initially we have used TAP Coffee as they have been amazingly supportive, but our intention is to work with various roasters around London to allow us to meet and work with new people and with so many awesome one of the things that motivated us to start our own business! We select coffees and the idea is to stick with one for 3-4 weeks to allow us to learn and improve it as we go and bring our customers along for the ride. We’ve mostly used fully washed coffees and it looks like that will be our mainstay but we’ve just partnered with Square Mile Coffee and we’re using a Black Honey Processed Costa Rica called Finca Salaca. We are mostly excited by lighter roasted coffees but when we cup coffees and think how they will taste cold brewed we are looking for great body, intense sweetness and plenty of acidity as we know cold brewing will strip this back considerably. People often comment that ours is acidic for a cold brew and I guess we are trying to achieve some acidity to ensure it will be refreshing – immersion seems to be much easier to control this with.
Have there been any unforeseen challenges?
We have had a few steep learning curves but we did nine months of tests to ensure we had the right ratios and brew times and that our filtration was just right. We have improved under pressure and fortunately we haven’t really had any major hiccoughs. We need more space to be able to store more stock (bottles, labels, boxes, etc) which will help us to achieve some economy of scale and make the business more sustainable. At this stage it is all done just by the two of us which can mean for long weeks but we are just stoked to be able to have our own business and sell to a wide variety of awesome customers. We are mostly in coffee shops but we are also in Selfridges and the Sourced Market at St Pancras. Luxury retailers are likely to form a large part of our customer base before long. We are planning to do a Kickstarter campaign in the new year to allow us to grow and do more exciting stuff – stay tuned, we’ll send rewards to the US!
Where can we buy your coffee?
We’re currently only distributing in London as the product is fresh and unpasteurized. We are working on it and you’ll be the first to know! Put put it atop your list for your next visit to London!
You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @sandowslondon
All photos by Joshua Preston