Paul Anderson – Owner at Lowdown Coffee

I went into this interview not knowing a huge amount about Paul Anderson, owner of Lowdown Coffee. I'm really glad we got to have this chat as it truely explains a lot about the way Lowdown operates and presents itself. An incredibly interesting man, with a different route into speciality coffee than most, running one of the U.K's most consistently high quality cafes.

Background

So I come from a design background. My whole family do actually, I studied product design and my Dad's an architect - some of  my relatives are architects and my wife's an artist. I've never really practiced, we had family a business - when I finished art school, went to university and went straight into the family business which was all office based.

Getting into the coffee industry

My Dad bought the master franchise for Coffee Republic in 2008.

The founder of Coffee Republic wanted a corner site close to entrance/exit of all Circle line stations. He opened up 120 stores in 3 years.

We had no cafe experience so I went to London to get an insight, I shadowed at board level to working in a cafe. This would give us the knowledge to sell further franchises.

I managed Richmond and I managed Liverpool Street station, Liverpool Street Station did £2,500 worth coffees a day back then. It was huge volume, (and looking back) quite low quality but we got a taste for the industry.

The first Edinburgh cafe:

We opened up our own franchise in St Andrew Square Garden. We were involved in creating the cafe pavilion during the garden redevelopment. It built up and became a successful spot and then Coffee Republic PLC went into administration.

It was at the time Artisan and Wellington etc were growing and we decided to go it alone as an independent. The business gave us our first taste of speciality coffee.

The idea behind Lowdown

It was at that point in time when there were lots of spots in Edinburgh that had created a group of customers with higher coffee expectations and more sophisticated palates - we decide to open another cafe.

When we opened this shop, we always thought that the preparation of the coffee is key - so getting good water, equipment that we felt produced coffee tasting how we wanted it to taste, basically refracting everything and making sure we get the most out of it. The workflow is a bit fiddly, but it's all we've ever used here and we don't do huge volumes.

There was a lot of repetition in cafe interiors, they all looked similar. There's a place for that style but I think you have to look at the location of the shop, what you intend to serve and who your customers are going to be and configure how the shop should look. We wanted a calming space but were limited by the size of the premises.

It's now starting to become an exciting and viable business. Now we're doing the volumes and we have great customer base, we can use coffee that is at the top end of the speciality market.

I want to create an interior, service and coffee that are all aligned.

The Coffee

I think I've learnt more in the past two years than I have in the other 10 years previously; understanding more about varietals/processing/roasting to get coffees that work for us.

We just use coffee that has something unique about it, whether it's the origin, how it's processed and that's it really. We don't make as much margins on it but we don't do a lot of take away coffees, most of our coffees are sit in, and when people sit in they generally make other purchases.

It allows the team to keep a keen interest, if they have coffee that is exciting then that is an asset to working here as well - every two weeks they development recipes to get a new coffee tasting good.

I don't want to go into it half hearted, if we've got good staff and good equipment and a nice environment - we just want to make sure the coffee, tea, cake and chocolate supplier is something that I would want to visit for. Rather than thinking it's convenient to visit, I'd rather make it a destination.

Using an EK43 and the one coffee that changed it all

There was a shop in Edinburgh, in Marchmont, called Freemans - it was a big Australian-style cafe ahead of its time. They had an EK43 as their only grinder and I used to enjoy those espressos, I personally don't like small, intense/ sour shots. Then what sealed it for me, I was at the Glasgow Coffee Festival when Rob Ashton & James Wallace running a stall using EK espresso and he was using Five Elephant Guatemalan. I think Patrick Rolf was working at Five Elephant at the time. They served me an espresso and that was just the point where if ever I owned a cafe again it was going to be EK shots - it was sweet, clean and you could pick something out of it. It was my standout espresso ever, it changed it for me.

Product vs Service

Trip advisor reviews are - the vast majority are based on service. So if you get the service right I think generally people are more forgiving if there's a bit more time to get their food out or if that milk wasn't hot enough for someone. Our shop is small enough so the team can have a rapport with everyone and this creates repeat business with those that are local.

It is important, and it is definitely important for us but I think the service side of things then letting them come in and letting them see what we've got to offer may open their eyes for future.

I think hospitality can have more  impact than amazing food and drink.

Opinion on Coffee Chains

They have seen what is going on, I think a flat white is universally the most common drink in any cafe. These chains have grasped onto that and are now generating so many of these drinks and then people come in and taste a flat white here and realise it can taste so much better. So they're creating more of a market because they've seen what coffee people like drinking and trying to recreate the market to the mass market. It is in a way creating a bigger audience for speciality coffee.

Food and Drink in Edinburgh

I think there are some outstanding restaurants - sometime you need time or a way to seek them out, there's always something that's pretty special.

I think the media still focus on places like The Ivy opening up in St Andrew Square when they could concentrate on something locally-owned that's much more focussed.

Biggest peeve with coffee bloggers

There’s lots coffee blogger people in Edinburgh where I think certain things they think is a necessity to tell customers, roast dates is a bug bear of mine.. Lots of people are focussed on the roast date, that's their only criteria for selecting coffee - they're not interested that it's a current crop or a special microlot, or roasted by a leading roaster.

The effect of Fringe on the business

Good and bad. I'd love to be in the position where you could just say that I want to hire extra baristas and a kitchen porter and trade from 8 - 12 at night and make lots of money. But I just feel the staff are so critical here that it's not easy to gear up and then scale it back down in September. Basically our shift patterns are the same as they would be on a snowy Tuesday in February. So we're just stretched a bit more.

Lowdown's Mega Coffee Database

We've got a database of all the coffees we've had. What we've had, roast date, when we were using it, how long we were letting it rest, our dose, yield, TDS, flavour notes and then we can just look back on it. The espresso we're using just now from Koppi, we had it last year, but it tastes different and it's things like this we relish.

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