A Colombian roaster in Oxford

In the fabled university town of Oxford, one woman is making a name for herself.

Milly Barr left Colombia in 2000 to study in the UK, and four years ago decided to set up Exotic Coffee Roasters.  

© Exotic Coffee Roasters

© Exotic Coffee Roasters

The specialty coffee sector is booming in the UK, she told us during a recent visit to Bogota. And while its still largely focused on London, new cafes and micro roasters are popping up in towns and cities all over the island.

For various reasons, roasters in places like Oxford or Newcastle need to work that bit harder to win over customers, Barr says. “London invites you to spend. You treat yourself, and a cup of coffee is a treat.”

Barr comes from the city of Valledupar, close to Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, famous for its flavorsome and low-acidity coffees. The area is also close to some of Colombia’s largest coal mines and has been a centre of paramilitary violence in recent decades.

Exotic Coffee Roasters buys from various farmers across Colombia, shipping it back to Europe using exporters. Once roasted, the beans are sold online and to restaurants across the UK.  

They also sell cups of coffee from a ‘carrito’ or mobile coffee trike at Oxford’s Summertown Farmersmarket. “There’s a Starbucks right in front but they come to us,’’ Barr says.

As part of an informal exchange program, employees from two well-known roasters in Bogota – Amor Perfecto and Azahar – have gone to work with her in Oxford, bringing their roasting skills and learning English.

When asked what she’s looking forward to in the coming year, Barr points to the June 2016 World of Coffee event in Dublin when thousands of producers, roasters and baristas will fly into Ireland’s capital for three days of competition and exchange of ideas.   

“It’s going to be a real party,” Barr says.

She’ll be there. And so will we!

Dublin coffee marathon

From our armchairs in Bogota we’ve been following the rise of new bars serving good coffee in Dublin. So as we were there over New Year we decided to do one better. Over two days we slurped our way across the city as part of a coffee marathon. Conclusions? Read on.

Starting in the Rathmines neighbourhood we visited TwoFiftySquare where they roast their own coffee. Exposed brick, large blackboard announcing the day’s coffee, welcoming atmosphere. In short, a great place. One cappuccino and a V60 filtered brew later and we were feeling perky. Time to hit the pavement again.

But only 100 meters of it. Just up the road before the Grand Canal we stop at the Grove Road Cafe for an espresso and an americano of Red Bourbon, a variety of Arabica. Served in funky red cups no less, with a corner view of the world. Another winner.  

We then continue over Portobello bridge. Our next stop, ‘To Get Her’, was unfortunately closed (love the name though!).

From there we walk to the city centre looking for the Science Gallery which hosts the Cloud Picker Coffee bar. Eventually we find it and are rewarded with excellent Costa Rican.

It was then the turn of the nearby 3FE café and roaster for another Costa Rican filtered coffee and cappuccino. They also have bags of great coffee to take away! At this point we’re starting to feel that Costa Rican might be the predominant coffee in Dublin bars at the moment? No bad thing.

Caffeine levels are running very high and we brave the 15 minute walk to Temple Bar hoping to visit Roasted Brown. But we’re too late and it’s closed. ¡Que pena! Volveremos. 

Day 2:
With so many great coffees behind us, the next day we decide to take it easy. After a quick cultural pit stop to the National Gallery we stop in at Bewleys, perhaps THE Dublin classic, and end the afternoon at the Twisted Pepper, on the other side of the Liffey with an excellent cappuccino from Vice.

It was great to see that the coffee scene in Ireland’s capital is clearly booming and we still have many more cafes to visit on our next trip. We’re left with just one question however … where is the Colombian?