Union Coffee turns 20
British Airways partner Union Hand-Roasted Coffee is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. High Life caught up with co-founder Jeremy Torz to see how working in the coffee industry influences his travels
How did you choose where in the world to source your coffee beans?
Following the research into flavour profiles and in-flight perceptions, we knew the characteristics of the raw coffee needed. The choice to source this from Peru was partly connected to what the different country profiles offer us as roasters, but we were also looking at opportunities to widen our relationships, as Union Hand-Roasted was founded on the basis of bringing better buying practices and share of income to farmers and smallholders. In the northern region of Cajamarca, the majority of coffee farmers are not organised – not members of community cooperatives or associations – and are possibly the most vulnerable in the coffee supply chain. Today, the coffee for BA is purchased at sustainable prices from these smallholders, who deliver their partly processed coffee to a central mill where we establish quality control and other support programmes to help manage the coffee quality.
How often do you visit your coffee bean producers, and do you ever make a holiday out of the trip?
As we’re still a relatively small sourcing team with many producers to visit, we don’t often have time to add on to our trips. Rural locations can take a few days either side of the actual meetings to get there and back. A few years ago, however, my co-founder Steven Macatonia and I did make a special trip when we went to Indonesia to meet our producers in Sumatra. We spent 12 days getting to and visiting various communities in Aceh province. We also went on to Sulawesi where, as divers, we wanted to visit the marine reserve off the northwest coast of the island. We took a huge dive bag with us with wetsuits, regulators, masks etc, lugging it around Sumatra for 12 days before finally getting to dive. Although it was a lot of hassle, it was very well worth it and we were rewarded with some wonderful reef dives and spent five days among the tropical fish and relaxing after a very hectic trip.
Where is your favourite place in the world to drink coffee?
That’s a tricky question. Nowadays the UK has some of the best cafés in the world and the standard of coffee and baristas here is also very high, very different to just five-to-ten years ago. My choice of coffee destinations are therefore mainly based on the varied and vibrant cultures and communities we get to experience. If you are looking for café experience, then Australia and New Zealand still have something special in terms of a coffee/café culture. But Rwanda is high on my list because it’s a stunningly beautiful country with friendly and warm people and a unique style of coffee for East Africa. Costa Rica and Colombia are also amazing places, with long, rich histories, nature and traditional architecture in places such as Popayán, a Unesco Intangible Heritage of Humanity site.
What are your holiday coffee-drinking habits? Do you plan ahead to visit specific coffee shops in an area?
If I’m travelling to a coffee origin country, it might sound strange, but I always take my own coffee, a hand grinder and an AeroPress and a small single-cup brewer with me. In most cases, the country exports its best coffee, so finding a good cup to drink in-country can be challenging! It’s also a great way to share what we do with the producer. And for them, seeing their coffee as a finished product in a Union Hand-Roasted Coffee bag is something to be proud of.
If it’s a leisure trip, then of course we always look up who’s doing a good job at the destination and take some time to visit, meet and talk coffee with the owners and share our various views and perspectives on the industry. It’s a fine line, however, as most of our sightseeing and leisure time could be taken up by this. After 20 years in coffee, I still love to talk about it as much as drink it and I’m looking forward to the next 20 years of learning and sharing the joy of coffee.
British Airways customers can enjoy a cup of Union Hand-Roasted’s speciality coffee blend in the air, a BA lounge or at home from its website with 20 per cent off (code BAVIP). Discover more about the partnership here.
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