The Pioneers of Welsh Coffee Roasting
On a grey morning in January I find myself caught in rolling clouds amongst the hills of Camarthenshire, on my way to Ammanford, a former coal town in the South of Wales, UK. I’ll admit Ammanford has never been high on my list of places I must visit; then I heard about what Coal Town were up to and had to visit!
On arrival I was welcomed by the aroma of the morning brews, weary eyes scanned the daily headlines as breakfasts were served from the canteens wood fire. Coal Town has been set up by Scott James and his father Gordon. The duo had been roasting and selling coffee from their garage before deciding to upscale.
After exploring the site, speaking to employees, drinking coffee and taking in the environment of Coal Town I sat down with Scott to chat about his experiences growing up and setting up his own coffee empire.
The Foundry Road roastery was opened in November of 2018 after two years of hard work finding a location, rebuilding and conditioning the site. Coal Town initially sold their coffee to local cafes around the country and in February 2018 the crew opened an espresso bar in the Edwardian Arcade in Ammanford.
The business initially started as a subscription box service called Roasted Joe’s.
Scott would buy and sell specialty coffee from roasters around the country and ship it to buyers, from this he realised that he wanted to go a step further and roast his own coffee. From there he and his father, Gordon, whose previous experience was as an engineer, built their first roaster out of an old BBQ and a Ford KA.
Scott was born and raised in Ammanford, where his parents owned a cafe. He tells me how he remembers visiting roasters at a young age with his parents and seeing white beans and learning about the processes that go into roasting coffee.
Having left school with no qualifications Scott found himself voluntary work with a National Trust property, this led to him acquiring skills and confidence and realising that there are different ways to learn.
“When I left school it was incredibly difficult to find work with no qualifications, I also wanted to prove that it is possible to achieve without a piece of paper that says you can.”
Coal Town is very focused on employing local people and upscaling them in to work. Those who might not find it very easy to find work are taken on, fully trained and introduced into the specialist coffee industry.
“the goal of Coal Town Coffee is to bring a new industry to Ammanford”
“People from Ammanford typically move away to find work, since the closing of the mines there aren’t many working opportunities left. All the local industry disappeared with the closing of the mines, the goal of Coal Town Coffee is to bring a new industry to Ammanford and prove to people that there is something worth staying for and you don’t have to move away to find work.”
Scott’s first customers were secured at the ripe age of 19, he and his father would go and pitch to cafes and coffee sellers which then led to organic growth between buyers. From the success and growth they were able to upgrade their DIY roaster to a 12 kilo roaster which was based within his parents’ garage for 4 years. Within that time staff were employed to help with the operations. The success and interest for Coal Town coffee in their startup years meant that the team had to move from the garage as the growth was so substantial the space didn’t fit their needs any longer.
After saving diligently and waiting for the right space to set up their roastery.
The Coal Town team paired up with TRJ team to look for a site for our new roastery in the Ammanford area. Dafydd Jones, one of the directors of TRJ suggested the old workshops opposite their site. This was the location Scott had been searching for.
The space on Foundry Road was transformed from an empty, run down workshop in to a gorgeous, open plan space. The growth has been progressive from the very beginning for Coal Town, people followed their journey on social media and have created a community who are passionate and fully behind the team and brand.
“The local community isn’t necessarily focused on specialty coffee, it’s completely new to the area.”
Scott is leading a new wave in Wales for specialty coffee and is setting the standards high for quality coffee. The response to Coal Town Scott says has been “phenomenal”.
“When we opened the doors and saw people come in and really take in the environment it’s been amazing.”
When asked what advice do you have for those who have an idea or passion they want to work towards Scott said that
“All you need is passion, as long as you’ve got passion and fire to do what you want to do it will always happen,
It’s when you’re unsure of something or haven’t quite convinced yourself it’s something you want to do. That’s typically when things don’t work. It’s when you’re super passionate about something and do anything to make sure it’s done to get you to where you want to go. That’s when things become amazing.”
Thank you so much to the team at Coal Town for taking the time to talk to us, show us the roasting process and letting us at Surrounded have you as our first feature.
For the full interview with Scott, conversations with Gordon and a look around the Foundry Road site head over to our videos page.