I’ve never been to the west coast of Ireland but I’ve seen pictures. In a way, it feels like a greener version of parts of Iceland with more people living there and cute pubs all over the place. As a child, I travelled along the river Shannon with my family on two occasions, stopping in adorable little towns and visiting fairytale castles.
Setting up a prolific specialty coffee roastery in a remote part of an island is surely not easy but being removed from all the distractions of a big city like London undoubtedly also has some rewards. For one, a closeness to nature that helps you to keep a clear head and comparatively low rents, which is a great luxury for any budding startup.
That was most likely exactly what Zarah Lawless and Daniel Boobier had in mind when they left their previous jobs at Workshop Coffee Roasters in London and moved to Galway. Their goal was to establish a fine specialty coffee roastery with a clear focus on seasonal coffees, roasted to bring out their absolute best flavours.
Since its founding in 2018, Calendar Coffee has been a regular guest roaster here at The Coffeevine and ahead of its December 2022 box feature, I caught up with Zarah over Google Meet to find out what has been happening at Calendar since our last collaboration, get a better understanding of what their new ‘Sustainability Manager’ does and to learn more about the lovely Guatamalan coffee from Rosendo Domingo that will appear in our final Coffeevine box of 2022.
THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “It’s been a hot minute since we last worked together and the year is already almost over. What did you guys get up to in 2022?”
Zarah Lawless (ZL): “The last time we spoke, we were in the process of moving to our new roastery. This year has kind of been all about settling in to our new premises. We’ve been trying to do a lot of the work ourselves. We have this huge production space downstairs and upstairs will eventually become a sort of tasting and training room.
The production space has been fully operational for a while now while we’re still tipping away at the upstairs, as we say in Ireland.
Other than that, the biggest thing we’ve done this year is to bring on a new ‘Sustainability Manager’ who is responsible for making our business more sustainable. That’s been quite a big investment for us.”
TC: “That’s super interesting, actually. I wonder how many other roasters have a dedicated person for this? Because, of course, sustainability is a hot topic everywhere and many roasters are doing such things as delivering their coffee in reusable vats using electric vehicles etcetera. But the fact is that sustainability is a very difficult subject in coffee because if you’re based in Europe and you drink coffee, it has a carbon footprint by default. Coffee doesn’t grow here.”
ZL: “It’s definitely complicated. There are so many unknown variables in this industry. For example, unless you negotiate the price with the producers yourself, you don’t know how sustainable the whole purchase is. There are a ton of terms that are thrown around in the coffee industry and I guess we’re just trying to pick them apart to understand what they mean to us and which ones are truly relevant.”
TC: “It sounds to me like you’re really trying to find the best way to futureproof your business, as it were. If we’re talking about climate change, we need to address the carbon footprint of coffee in general, not just in the specialty coffee industry.”
ZL: “Well, one thing that was really surprising to us was to learn what our carbon emissions are made up of. Earlier this year, we had this company come in and do an entire sustainability audit where they looked at everything, from the coffee we buy to the shipping methods we use to send webshop orders.
“We’ll be working with mainly seven different origins, as it stands now, and within those origins, we want to work with very specific farms from whom we want to buy as much coffee as possible.”
We didn’t know that around 60% of our total carbon emissions come from green coffee alone and a large part of that comes from the way the coffee is farmed and produced. This made us realise that we can make a sizeable dent in our emissions by changing the way we buy coffees and the types of coffees we buy.
Therefore, we will focus more on organic and shade-grown coffees going forward because they can really help to reduce our carbon footprint. These might sound like little things but they’re actually big things, if you know what I mean.”
TC: “The fact of the matter is that sustainability is about so much more than just the coffees we work with. It’s also about how we can make our businesses sustain themselves, in other words, pay salaries, pay rent, invest in better technologies and facilities and so on. Patrik Rolf, who is quite a thoughtleader on this, also speaks about working with a sustainable profile for coffee, basically offering some coffees that will be commerically successful amongst wholesale customers and that can give you the freedom to also work with more expensive and elevated coffees.”
ZL: “Correct. As you know, many farmers produce various quality lots and often the ones we love are just a small percentage of their overall output. That’s why, going forward, our focus will be on the type of coffee we source, how it is grown and slimming down the number of origins we will work with.
We’ll be working with mainly seven different origins, as it stands now, and within those origins, we want to work with very specific farms from whom we want to buy as much coffee as possible. This will include some micro lots as well as the more classic espresso stuff. This, rather than buying a bit from everywhere, will definitely help us to streamline our sourcing and have a more positive impact on the people who are producing the coffees.”
TC: “Let’s talk about the origins you work with. In a way, your name says it all, right? Calendar Coffee is all about sourcing the freshest coffees that are seasonally available. As it so happens, this will be the second Guatamalan coffee that you’ll be roasting for us. Is Guatemala an origin that has a special place in your heart?
ZL: “Yes, even before we started Calendar, Dan and I both loved coffees from Guatemala. We’ve always been surprised by the range of flavours that come from this country. We could probably buy a whole year’s worth of coffee from there if we wanted to because Guatemala has so many diverse regions and flavour profiles.
We’ve always been astounded by the fact that you could try a bunch of different coffees from the same region and they would taste competely different. For example, the coffee from Rosendo Domingo that you will get in December is a coffee we source via Primavera and this year is the second time we got fresh harvest from this producer and it just reconfirmed our commitment to this origin.”
TC: “The last time we worked together, the coffee came from Sotero Cano. But one thing that I noticed is that there was this buzz some time ago about natural processed Guatemalan coffees but they’re still surprisingly hard to come by. Other Central American countries are seemingly much more ahead of the curve with other experimental processing methods and so forth. What is it about washed Guatemalan coffees that makes them so special to you?”
ZL: “Well, washed coffees are the kind of coffees that we prefer to drink ourselves and we generally only get samples of washed coffees. I think in Huehuetenango (the main coffee growing region of Guatemala), there are just a lot of farmers who really care about their work and who take great care to produce the highest quality coffees possible. This includes making sure only the ripest cherries are picked, how they are processed and dried. These things make a huge difference.
I know that Dan really loves working with them. He says they’re very satisying to roast. Over the coming years, we want to learn a lot more about how these coffees are grown and what kind of practices can be applied to make coffee production more futureproof.”
TC: “The last time we spoke, I noted that Galway had become somewhat of a foodie destination in Ireland. How has the scene evolved since then? Are you guys thinking about opening a café?”
ZL: “No. I mean, we have talked about it but our focus is really on roasting. The only thing we might do in the future is to open the roastery for people to drop in and have a coffee as a way for us to showcase what we’re doing here. Ireland and the UK often get paired together but they’re fundamentally different. The population here is much smaller and I often wonder to what degree the market might already be reaching saturation levels. I know there is still room for growth, especially when I look at the last couple of years, specialty coffee in Ireland has virtually exploded. But in Galway? I think Galway is reaching capacity now.
One really nice thing that happend this year was that we got a bunch of local cafés together to host the Irish Aeropress Championships. That was super fun! This helped to bring the community together.”
TC: “Where do you see most of the growth coming from?”
ZL: “A lot of it is export, actually. To Asia and to America especially. One of the most exciting partnerships has been with an Irish pub from New York called The Dead Rabbit. They’ve won several big awards. We’ve been working with them to create their signature Irish Coffee. We’re still trying to nail down the exact roast profile but that’s a pretty promising collaborations because over the next few years, they plan to open a lot more locations across the US and that’s really opened up this market to us.”
TC: “The last time I was in Dublin, I really noticed how there are a lot of excellent multi-roaster cafés that go out of their way to showcase the best roasters from around Europe and focus much more on consistent preparation rather than the showmanship of coffee brewing. In Amsterdam, most cafés also roast their own coffees. I found that to be quite an interesting contrast.”
ZL: “We’ve never sent any coffee to Amsterdam actually, except to you. I think most specialty coffee bars in Ireland that I’ve interacted with have guest roasters. Even the ones that we helped with the opening, almost all of them had guest roasters right away. I personally think that the guest roaster or guest grinder is becoming more common here, like it’s almost expected.
I think some people really try to do too many things at once, especially if they also start roasting, rather than just really nailing down the house coffee and then going from there. It feels like some people think they have to have the biggest offering instead of making sure that what they already have is solid. If you’re constantly changing your coffee, you have to constantly change your recipes and this just leads to extra complexity.
I do wonder if we’ll ever go back to a more stripped down approach? You know, like less is more.”
TC: “I mean, in my case, I consciously chose not to have my own ‘Coffeevine’ roasted coffees because having an additional product line would add a lot of extra complexity. I think people love the fact that they can access and discover so many outstanding coffees from different roasters via my box and that is our strength. It’s amazing that I get to work with people like you or Nomad or Morgon. If I also roasted my own, I might be able to reduce my costs but it would complicate things further.”
ZL: “Exactly. That’s also why we want to focus only on roasting because we know someone who is super passionate about brewing, they can do a much better job of it than we can. We just want to stay in our lane essentially.”
TC: “That’s a great bridge to my next question. Your labels have always stood out to me thanks to the unique designs by Cadi Lane who also works with Hard Lines in Cardiff. We featured them earlier this year. I feel like coffee has moved beyond the boring brown bags with black and white stickers. It’s a bit like what happened in the wine industry some years ago. Many young and exciting wine makers have super funky labels that jump out at you and it’s the same with your bags. How do people react to your branding?”
ZL: “We get a lot of very positive feedback from people. Many want to know who is behind the designs and where are they based? I think in this day and age, many roasters are really interested in having very individual artworks and packaging designs that make their coffees more unique. For us, Cadi has been amazing and over the years, we’ve seen her style evolve.
In the beginning, it was a huge investment and also a bit of a risk. We didn’t know if it would pay off but we also strongly believed that if we were to do something, we had to get noticed. I’m glad it’s paid off. She still surprises us on a regular basis with the fun designs that she comes up with and for us, having this trust in her is super important because it’s one thing less to worry about.”
TC: “Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure to chat.”
This coffee is part of our upcoming December 2022 Coffeevine box that also features other delicious coffees from Morgon Coffee Roasters and Nomad. To choose your ideal box and get in on the fun, just pop over to our shop now.