In the distance, down below, the lights of the former mining town of Ammanford flicker in the coal black night. Up here on the hillside it seems incongruous to detect the smell of roasting coffee in the air — even if you’re expecting it.
New Black Gold
The aroma of hot arabica beans is spilling out from the garage of Scott James’s family residence – the current home of Coaltown, a speciality coffee roaster that is only 3 years old but has captured custom at a pace that means it will soon move from the cramped confines of an (admittedly large) domestic garage to a swanky purpose–built premises nearer the town.
“We’ll be almost trebling the capacity,” says Scott, 23. “Ammanford is an ex–mining community. We want to use the business as a way of making a contribution to bringing employment back to the town.”
Coffee is a serious business these days not just in terms of the vast sales and the growth of the independent coffee sector (both producers and coffee shops) but in degree of detail and care that roasters must go to if they are to hold their own in a market where the customer is increasingly hard to impress.
We are towards the tail end of a long process that starts with the growing of the beans and all the variables that go with that – like location, altitude, varietals, growing conditions, the processing of the bean – all this happens before it gets to us – so we have to select the right beans and then make sure we get our part spot on. Then it’s in the hands of the barista.”
They’ve kind of got that covered too, insisting on training – which they carry out in a rather grand wooden villa style building in the garden. “It’s about having the complete offering – there’s no point in making a great roast and then having it poorly delivered from the machine.” That goes for the branding too, theirs is clever and it tells the tale. On the back there’s an image of Scott’s great grandfather in his mining gear. “He went down the pit when he was 14 and did that until he was 56...we’re still here, but for us it’s a different type of black gold.”