When I was last in London I came across Sham City Roasters. I’m a big coffee drinker and I’m always wanting to try the taste of new blends and roasts so I was pretty excited to try their coffee. It blew my mind with is taste and complexity and I needed to find out more. Here’s what I found out:
Hey, what’s your name, age and where do you live?
Hi! My name’s Dave, I’m 35 years old and I live in Bromley, South East London.
What is Sham City Roasters?
Sham City Roasters is an independent coffee roasting company that I started last year. I specialise in filter coffees and roast a number of different blends of coffee which I currently sell online and at markets around London and the South East. I roast the coffee in smaller quantities than the bigger coffee roasters, which allows me a lot of control over the roast level and profile of the beans, and therefore the flavour and texture of what my customers get in their cup. My aim is to bring out all of the different flavours of the beans which can be much more complex than many people are used to if they’re used to drinking at mainstream espresso places.
What does the name mean?
Well not a lot to be honest!!! Sham is a reference to one of my favorite bands, Sham 69, and my decision to start this business was very influenced by punk rock and the DIY attitude that’s been instilled in me as a result of spending 20 years in and around the punk rock scene. Sham 69 were one of the first bands I ever fell in love with and as a result had a huge influence on my life, acting as a “gateway drug” to get into the more underground bands who ended up influencing my world view and definitely gave me the confidence to start my own business.
How long have you been doing what you do?
I quit my job and officially started the company in May 2015. Prior to that I had been roasting coffee for around a year. I have been a coffee lover for my entire adult life and I feel that it is the love of coffee that really started me on this journey.
What made you go into business?
Well I have always wanted to run my own business and have always loved coffee. My original dream was always to open a coffee shop, and fundamentally still is, but when I looked into the industry more I became very interested by the roasting of coffee. There’s so many different factors involved which all have a great deal of impact on the taste of the final product. The more I read about it and learned about it the more I found interested me. As soon as I actually started roasting myself it revolutionised the way in which I viewed coffee and the idea of sharing this with others was a bit of a no-brainer!
In The City– A medium roast coffee blended with Columbian and Brazilian beans making a
full bodied coffee with a sweet and creamy taste packed with flavour.
What is your background?
Well, somewhat different to what I’m doing now! I worked as a psychiatric nurse for 15 years prior to starting this business. I pretty much started training for that as soon as I left school and did it for the whole of my adult life. As I said, I’d always had an idea that I wanted to start my own business but nursing is so all encompassing that its difficult to find the time or energy to work on anything after a long hard shift on the ward! I decided that I needed to jump in with both feet if I was going to make the life changes necessary to successfully start my own business and so here I am! I haven’t regretted a thing thus far!
How long have you been making coffee?
I’ve been roasting for around 2 years at this point. I am entirely self-taught so I spent at least the first year or so just experimenting with different beans and different roasting profiles before I ever thought of even letting my friends taste it! I had a lot of trial runs before I even let anyone know I was doing it, I was VERY caffeinated during that first year!!!
White Riot– Blended In the City and dark roasted Guatemalan beans making a light, fruity coffee
with rich caramel flavours.
How did you get started in this business?
By jumping in frankly! Once I made the decision that I was going to start this as a business I made a decision that I couldn’t do it half-assed and that I would just need to take a chance and sink or swim on my own merits. I suppose I started in this business just by being a coffee obsessive though, that and the DIY attitude I gained from growing up around the punk scene. I think people should go for their dreams no matter what because you only live once and it really was that feeling that gave me the confident to go into business.
How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?
I’m definitely still learning in all areas of running a business. I have never had any formal training in any of this and am learning on the go. I think I’m lucky that I naturally have some of the skills necessary to run a business. I’ve always been pretty good with numbers and pretty organised. I also have some management experience from my nursing career and I think if you can run an acute psychiatric ward for any amount of time you can pretty much do anything!
London Strongman– Dark roasted blend with beans from Papua New Guinea and Kenya making a rich,
strong coffee with bold and complex flavours.
Is London a competitive market for independent businesses or do you thrive off each other?
I’m not sure I’ve been doing this long enough to answer that question with any sort of certainty but I’ve certainly found the other people I’ve met through doing this to be very supportive and friendly. I think you get what you give in that respect. At this point I’ve dealt mostly with individuals and small craft enterprises and everyone has been open to giving and receiving advice and generally supportive of each other. The more craft markets that I work the more of the same faces I see and people I get to know, they’ve all been super nice thus far!
Where do you make your sales?
I sell through Etsy and Folksy online and then run market stalls around London and the South East, most notably The London Artisan Market at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, which I do almost every Sunday. In 2016 I’m going to be growing the market stall side of my business a great deal and am in the process of setting up a proper “brew bar” where customers will be able to taste all of my blends as well as unusual short run coffee’s that I’ll change regularly and will give me an opportunity to really experiment with my roasting.
Where do you see Sham City Roasters in the next few years?
I’m happy to not know the answer to that question at the moment to be honest, I don’t believe in detailed business plans because I’d rather make decisions in the moment and take this business where it naturally goes rather than try to force it. Ultimately I would love to run a roastery/coffee brew bar somewhere that I could really put my own stamp on and try to brighten up the coffee scene generally which I find, for the most part, quite boring.
Which companies do you admire?
None within the coffee industry to be honest, I find the mainstream coffee places to be horrifically beige and boring and the vast majority of the smaller places just ape that because it’s the easiest way to get customers through the doors. My influences mostly come from the punk scene and the way in which punk businesses run in a fair and thoughtful way. In that respect I’d probably name check Dischord Records, Microcosm Publishing, Specialist Subject Records and truly individual/uncatagorisable companies like Troma or Plan-It-X. I like companies that take their source material and then do something individual with it or that show their customers that there is something alternative to the mainstream and that it’s almost always better and more interesting.
Your branding is awesome. Who designed it and what inspired it?
Thank you! Dan Allen, from the band Ducking Punches, has done all the artwork on my packages. He does loads of artwork for the punk scene. He also designed some T-Shirts and the company logo (which I have tattooed on my wrist). Mark Bell from the band Mug did some T-Shirt and mug designs for me as well. These designs have come about in different ways, sometimes I have a clear idea of what I want and ask for something specific, other times I’ll ask for something and pretty much leave it entirely up to the artist to do something interesting with it. I would love to do it myself but I’m hopeless at art! I should probably give an honourable mention to Amelia at Cherry Pink Prints too who has done loads of design and photography work because again, I’m hopeless at that. All of these people are awesome.
Who works with you?
Currently I run the business by myself. Outside of the people I mentioned above and a number of “tasters” (I.e friends who like freebies!) I’ve done pretty much everything myself. It’s been a major learning experience in that respect but it has never been dull!
What kind of people do you find buys your coffee?
This is another area that I haven’t come to any conclusions about at this point to be honest. I have worked markets in hip places like Brick Lane, Peckham and Shoreditch and have done well but I’ve also worked markets in church halls in the suburbs and community markets in small Kentish towns and I’ve sold coffee to people who I imagine are from very different types of backgrounds. The punk scene has been very supportive for the most part so I’ve definitely made a lot of sales to people who became aware of me in this way but otherwise I really haven’t found any clear similarities. I’ve also sold coffee to loads of people in different countries, when I started this I had no idea that I’d be sending packages to Australia, Finland, Canada, Slovenia and loads of others! I still get so excited by every order I get but those ones are particularly special!
Do you see smaller independent coffee companies appearing in the future?
I would like to think so. For the most part I find the coffee industry is a microcosm of all business types in as much as it’s run largely by a small number of huge corporations. That’s never going to change but I think the sad thing about the coffee industry is that almost every company within it, no matter how large or small, seems to model themselves entirely on the big companies. This means that the industry as a whole becomes very bland and safe. I see a lot of similarities between the coffee industry now and the beer industry of a few years ago before everybody woke up to the qualities of craft beer. I hope that not only do we see an increase in independent coffee companies in the future but that people come and try to put their own stamp on the industry and try different and new things.
What’s the best way to brew your coffee?
I think it’s important for everyone to experiment with different methods and decide for themselves, you can get very different results from many different methods. My own choice will always be the French press because I just prefer the results and love the varied flavours depending on how you choose to use it. I grind my coffees specifically to the equipment that the customer uses but my one biggest piece of advice in relation to methods of brewing would be; buy a grinder! To get the absolute best taste out of any coffee blend you should grind the beans just before you brew it that makes the biggest difference to the final outcome in my opinion!
How do you feel about large coffee chains on the high street?
I think that the large coffee chains have normalised themselves into the fabric of the high street to such an extent that most people no longer question the idea of them being all that’s available. If you’d asked me this question 10 years ago I would have regaled you with all the horror stories about Starbucks aggressive business tactics putting literally thousands of independent coffee shops out of business but no one really questions that anymore because the big companies are such a monolithic presence, like fast food chains. My biggest problem with large coffee chains, as with almost all corporate entities, is that it makes the life we all lead so much more boring. A customer can only ever drink one brand of coffee safe in the knowledge that no matter where they go they will always be able to drink said coffee in a room that looks exactly the same as the room they’re used to going to, from exactly the same cup… Even the toilet will look the same! It makes mainstream culture so boring and easy, I believe that if I go to Glasgow I want to drink in a coffee shop that is different to the one I drink in in Brighton, not to mention Seattle or Hong Kong! I want to get an actual experience of the place that I am in. I’m bored of the same things everywhere and I think others should be too, (and are in many cases). The large coffee chains are just one of the many corporate entities which makes every high street exactly the same and therefore everyone’s lives that much smaller and duller.