There comes a moment in your career when you have to make a choice. Do you stay put where you are, maybe resting on your laurels and getting comfortable while not necessarily progressing further or do you take a bold step in a new direction? Sometimes, it’s easier to just go with the former and I know many who have ended up getting stuck somewhere that didn’t make them happy but also didn’t make them sad. Think of it like a twilight zone.
Going with the latter is a lot scarier and brings potentially huge risks but what is life if not one giant game of risk? That’s what Stephen Houston thought to himself when he found himself at an impasse at his former employer Bailies. Though he has nothing but praise for Northern Ireland’s biggest specialty coffee roaster, he needed a change of scenery. I happened to bump into him about a year and half ago when we were both visiting the London Coffee Festival during its weird September show in 2021 and as he disclosed in our most recent conversation, it was then that he was in the process of planning his next move.
What struck him, he said, was that many people in his circle kept telling him to start his own roastery, something he hadn’t even really considered. As soon as he found himself in the right mindset, however, things started falling into place. From getting the financing to finding a space and being offered excellent terms on buying green coffee delivered to Belfast. “I suddenly went from this is never going to happen to this is happening,” he recalled.
The fruits of his labour ended up being called ‘Lucid’. With this name, Stephen wants to clearly convey the essence of his brand, which is all about transparency, having clean and clearly pronounced cup profiles, and telling a compelling story that is easy to understand. While these values are not revolutionary as such, in Lucid’s case they do get extra heft from Stephen’s solid reputation as an excellent roaster, former competitor and martial artist.
Lucid also represent’s Stephen’s new roasting style, which brings out the most delicious flavours in each coffee. In a way, Stephen had to find his voice as a solo artist and as such, his roasting style had to evolve too. Part of this process is reflected in his decision to purchase a different roaster, a Diedrich gas-powered drum roaster, which was a challenge for him. “I didn’t know if I could even use this roaster,” Stephen mused. “It was definitely a huge learning experience for me and since I also do consulting, I now know how to work with yet another really good roasting machine.”
Stephen now has free reign to source his coffees where he pleases, something that was not necessarily a given before due to Bailies’ strict sourcing code. Whenever someone has something interesting and exciting, Stephen’s all ears. What did surprise him was that most of his wholesale customers are not in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland but in Great Britain. Turned out that most multi-roaster cafés in the Belfast area are looking for more ‘exotic’ roasters rather than local champions and Stephen’s strong network across the United Kingdom has resulted in Lucid becoming quite popular in places like London and Glasgow.
For his first solo Coffeevine feature – he previously roasted two Coffeevine orders for Bailies – Stephen will be offering us a really tasty washed Burundian coffee from Businde wet mill, a coffee sourced via Raw Materials. Right after he opened his business in June of 2022, Stephen sourced a natural from the same producer and sold around 300kg of it in a pretty short amount of time. When the new harvest arrived, he decided to buy both the natural and the washed lots because they are practically identical except for the processing and this gives Stephen a chance to showcase different coffee processes to new customers.
The coffee has a rich and juicy cup profile with notes of apricot, apple and honey. “Whether you want to prepare this as an espresso or you want to put it through a cafetiere, it’s just going to taste delicious,” Stephen raved. Time to get your order in then!
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