These Sheffield coffee roasters were forced to find a solution to a big lockdown problem - and it resulted in them having their best ever year of trading
When the building that housed their industrial-sized coffee roaster was closed indefinitely when lockdown hit, the couple that run an award winning Sheffield coffee roasters were faced with a stark choice.
Trev Neville and Tasha Wymer, knew they either had to find a way to continue running Smith Street Coffee Roasters, while the Geisen coffee roaster their operation is built around was locked up safe inside their premises in The Hide, or shut down for the forseeable future and hope for the best.
The couple say that the owner of The Hide, a site on Scotland Street in the city centre where several of the city’s independent businesses are based, understandably locked the building after life as we knew it came to a crashing halt, and the public were ordered to stay at home.
Thankfully, it didn’t take Trev long to find a solution – and one that has led to Smith Street Coffee Roasters having its best year of trading since the business started in 2014.
Instead of relying on circumstances outside of their control, Trev decided to buy a comparatively small roaster and create a temporary set up at their terraced house in Crookes.
“I thought he was bonkers,” joked Tasha, who informs me that the house permanently smelled of coffee after the roaster was set up.
By comparison, the Geisen coffee roaster, which costs about £30,000, can roast around 12kg of coffee in 20 minutes, whereas the smaller replacement one can do about 2kg in the same period of time.
“He had to work really hard, had to get up 6am to get it all done,” explains Tasha.
And that hard work certainly paid off, because it meant Smiths Street Coffee Roasters were able to keep up with the extra online demand which compensated for the loss of funds from their wholesale and coffee shop revenue streams which were hit by the pandemic.
"The more people are locked down, the more they want nice things at home. If more people are able to go out, online sales drop but then wholesale goes up,” says Trev.
And thankfully, the home roaster saw them through until The Hide reopened towards the end of the first lockdown, and then promptly broke due to “overuse".
Before long, Smith Street were shipping coffee to locations across all of the UK, as well as internationally to Europe and beyond.
Their business is now split evenly between wholesale and online, a combination they hope will continue to serve them well as things begin to return to something resembling normality.
"We moved here in 2019. For all that time we were a whole sale business and had a small online presence. Over the last two years that’s changed and we’re now 50 per cent whole sale and 50 per cent online,” explains Trev.
Smith Street offer free delivery for orders over £25, and can provide a next working day service for local drop offs.
They now hope to reopen their coffee shop in June, and Tash and Trev are looking forward to being able to “engage with customers” again. They will be open Monday to Friday, 9am until 2pm.
The pair will hold a launch event on May 22, when customers old and new are invited to come along.
"We’re going to invite people down, a lot of people who have been buying online haven’t actually been here before, so it’ll be a chance for them to meet us,” said Trev.
The event will also tie in with Sheffield’s first ever coffee festival, which will celebrate specialty coffee and is due to take place across several venues during the weekend of May 22 and 23.
Sheffield coffee businesses: Cuppers Choice Coffee Roasters; The Whaletown Coffee Company; Steamyard are among the festival’s partners, that also includes coffee machine manufacturer Victoria Arduino; Oatly, a food firm who produce plant-based alternatives to dairy and Brewed by Hand, a nationwide supplier of speciality coffee and tea.
Smith Street Coffee Roasters were among the first to open in Sheffield back in 2014, and describe themselves as being part of the “specialty coffee revolution in the north of England.” They have earned a reputation for high quality coffee, and for their experimental offering.
Their most popular coffee, from their core blend is Dark Peak, which Trev describes as their “Pinot Grigio. It is a Brazillian-based classic espresso blend that has won them two Good Taste awards.
"The Don is a little bit lighter and changes through the seasons. Currently, it features coffee from Colombia, El Salvador and Ethiopia. That’s the Spring blend, and it’ll change for the Summer,” says Trev.
They also have a single origin range that includes Rotutu, washed coffee from Timor Leste and Finca Breman, an organic, washed coffee originating from Guatemala.
Funkdelicious is another Smith St range, which is more experimental, and Trev likens it to sour beer in that it “isn’t for everyone” and the taste deviates wildly from what you might be expecting.
It involves an extended fermentation process, and Tasha says it is not the type of coffee you should buy if you prefer your coffee with milk, and compares it to adding milk to fruit tea.
Among the coffees in the Funkdelicious range are Raimutin, a coffee from Timor Leste, with notes of macadamia nuts, oolang tea and apricot, and Bardoza from Colombia, featuring notes of blue caracao, elderflower cordial and strawberries.
Like many coffee roasters, Smith Street sell coffee beans in bags of 250g, 500g and 1kg, and they also sell their coffee in quantities for wholesale and offer barista training.
Commenting on their ethics when it comes to the coffee they source, Trev said: “We source from some buyers, some direct stuff. The key thing for us is we want to buy the best beans we can from the specialty markets.
"We always want seasonal coffee, so that it’s fresh and that we have stuff arriving all the time.”
He added: "We’ve got our style of roasting, which is light or medium roast. The lighter you roast, the more you can taste the origin and the provinance.
"How you process the coffee really matters, things like how they pick off the coffee cherries and dry them really matters. The stuff they do really adds to the flavour, as does the rest of what we do."
The business was the brain child of Trev, a fourth generation steel worker who worked at a number of firms in Sheffield including Cadbury’s; Bassetts and Trebor in Chesterfield.
His first foray into food and drink came when he used his redundancy money to open tapas restaurant El Toro on Newbould Road, Broomhill with his brother.
And a trip to Melbourne, Australia turned Trev’s attention to coffee.
He explains: “10 to 15 years ago, coffee shops weren’t really a thing.
"We went to Melbourne and experienced their coffee scene and we thought it was amazing. They were using locally roasted coffee, there was a real craft to the produce.
"They were doing craft coffee, and we wanted to do the same over here.”
That prompted them to sell El Toro to a member of their kitchen team, who is still running the popular restaurant today, buy the Geisen coffee roaster and start selling specialty coffee to the people of Sheffield.
The aim was to produce “great tasting, small-batch lightly roasted beans that bring out the individual flavours and character of single origin coffees or delicious blends roasted a shade darker to make the perfect milk based drinks such as lattes, flat whites or cappuccinos.”
The decision to collaborate with The Holt café on Arundel Street, and set up the coffee roasters there in 2016, led to Trev meeting Tasha, who was working there supervising the coffee side of things.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The couple welcomed their son Arthur, five-months-ago.
The pair moved to their current premises on Scotland Street in 2019, and the future looks bright for the business.