How coffee culture is thriving in Sheffield

From coffee shops, to coffee roasters and coffee suppliers, Sheffield is bursting at the seams with beans.

When the Guardian recently proclaimed the decline of Sheffield’s high street, it also noted that the busiest spot in the city centre was 200 Degrees, the small artisan coffee shop chain. It’s a small, incidental detail, but the observation actually reveals a much wider trend taking place across Sheffield – coffee culture is thriving in the city, and the Steel City is quickly making itself known as a hub of ethical, carefully crafted coffee.

There are unique coffee shops springing up all over and while other independent retail outlets may be struggling, these coffee spots certainly aren’t.

Foundry Coffee Roasters started off selling bags of speciality coffee online back in 2012, but now have their own coffee shop in the heart of Sheffield, and roast their beans over in Cutlery Works in Kelham Island.

Managing Direct Lee Newell, 45, says: “The independent coffee scene is really cool in Sheffield at the moment. I think there’s a general expectation that it would be a really competitive market because quite a lot of shops have sprung up in a short period of time, but I think we all see ourselves as competing with the chains rather than each other.”

Lee attributes the flourishing coffee scene to a number of factors, including the rise of freelancers who chose to work in cafes and a shift in socialising away from pubs and towards coffee shops instead.

“Sheffield has been slow on the uptake with the coffee stuff, but it’s catching up all at once. When we started roasting coffee, there weren’t any [independent coffee shops], but now there’s loads”, Lee says.

Other coffee companies share the same views. Cafeology is one of the largest independently owned coffee companies in the UK, and their state of the art Roastology is based in Tinsley, in the footprint of Sheffield’s now demolished iconic Cooling Towers.

The smell of roasting coffee wafts from the building where founder Bryan Unkles, 46. works with his team as they roast the latest batch of coffee beans.
Their coffee beans come from Central and South America to Sheffield, where they are carefully roasted and distributed to local businesses including Sheffield University and campus café Coffee Revolution.

Bryan has lived in Sheffield most of his life, and thought it was the perfect place to set up his coffee supply business. “It’s a very proud county, so people tend to like to work with like-minded businesses and local businesses. So many people are into coffee, and so many people have their own ideas instead of the generic offering of the major chains. There’s space for everybody”

Coffee shouldn’t be pretentious – we’re quite adamant about that

Bryan Unkles, Cafeology

His team use state of the art equipment to carefully monitor and roast each batch of coffee, but Bryan acknowledges the need for coffee to remain accessible to all. He says: “People don’t want to walk into an intimidating or pretentious atmosphere. Coffee shouldn’t be pretentious – we’re quite adamant about that.”

But people don’t just want great tasting coffee – sustainability and ethics are just as important. In Bryan’s opinion: “People are generally more socially aware, and consumers are more discerning and want to know about their products and where they’ve come from.”

“We are able to provide full traceability. We’re totally engaged with the supply chain.” In October, Cafeology are funding Francisco, the president of the producer group they work with, to come to Sheffield and see how the coffee he helps produce is consumed.

These are just two example of independent coffee businesses thriving in Sheffield, and as coffee shops continue to be packed out day after day, it looks like we’ll be seeing more of them soon.