March 14, 2017
I’ve been investigating coffee culture in Barbados, and with a new direct Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow on the horizon, the island is becoming more accessible than ever. The new flight will operate on Tuesdays and Sundays as part of the winter 2017 schedule, which means we’ll now be offering up to 11 flights per week from three UK airports (Gatwick, Manchester and Heathrow). But back to my latest trip…
As the aircraft door swung open the heat of the sun felt as steamy as my morning coffee. Barbados has been described as a jewel of the Caribbean and on my many layovers here I’ve often embarked upon my very own treasure hunt: a Bond-like mission in search of those precious stones; coffee beans. On an island that proudly adopts the tea drinking culture of its British heritage, I was always sure I’d strike gold with a different kind of brew.
On the familiar journey from the airport to the hotel I’d normally pass the time staring idly at the sea through the fronds of swaying palm trees. However, on a recent layover I spotted a rather unassuming sign reading “Coffee Served Here” in the window of a bakery shop hut. I’d never noticed it before so I took a snapshot with my eye (perks of a photographic memory) and made a mental note to return – and weʼll revisit this spot a little ‘latte’.
For me, happy hour is coffee o’clock and for my post-landing tipple I like to head to Italia Coffee House on the south coast, site of my first experience of specialty coffee on the island. Over the years I’ve enjoyed countless signature coffees here, from a post-flight frescante espresso made with optional thick Italian cream blended with ice and a double shot of espresso with chocolate, to a simple morning cappuccino. This time around, as part of my treasure hunt I wanted to learn more about the beans used at Italia Coffee House and the faces behind this renowned Barbadian-owned chain.
I was fortunate enough to meet with managing director Kim Abed, who alongside general manager Cecil Yearwood has helped to engineer the coffee culture in Barbados for the past 18 years. A key ingredient of the success of Italia Coffee House is their second brand, West India Coffee Company, whose gourmet blends predominantly consist of a mix of 5-7 single origin beans, including some sourced from Sumatra and Brazil.
The beans are brewed to craft the perfect espresso; the same one used to make their range of hot and cold signature coffees including my favourite frescante. A meticulously managed programme sees all cafes on the island communicate in sync with regards to their daily brewing. The master roasters never truly reveal the exact ratio of the combination, which lends an air of mystery to the unique flavours produced.
There’s a chance as strong as a triple shot espresso that you’ve already enjoyed their roasts, as Italia Coffee House supply beans and ground coffee to various high-end hotels on the island. The team also pride themselves on providing barista training to hotel staff to ensure quality, while helping to orchestrate the brewing and provide a truly enjoyable latte, cappuccino or espresso experience.
Italia Coffee house has standalone cafes located along the island’s circumference including Quayside on the south coast, Bridgetown, Holetown, and at the airport for that last drop of vitamin C(offee). I often visit the cafe at Quayside as it’s only a bean’s throw away from the beach. I can sit and sip in the sunshine, or stroll along the South Coast Boardwalk until the blue skies fade into shades of apricot and the sun begins to dip below coppery pink clouds.
Near the end of my cup at the West India Coffee Company training site, I asked Kim and her sales and marketing manager Tiffany how they would describe their brand philosophies.
“In order of priority, Coffee, Customer, Service and Business,” she says. “Barbadians should be able to enjoy a first class espresso on the island, as should guests visiting Barbados.”
So getting back to that sign… with a sense of curiosity I headed to Tiki Pies bakery, where fresh coffee was indeed being served. Here, I sipped my first flat white in Barbados and asked barista Mike about the coffee beans and why they were quirkily named ‘Dawn Patrol’. Turns out this term is used by surfers to describe the act of hitting the waves before sunrise, which also sounds like the perfect time for the day’s first brew. Impressed by the quality, I arranged to pay a visit to the roasters of these fine coffee beans – Wyndhams Bajan Crafted Roasters – to find out more.
If I wasn’t already fully alert that morning, walking into the roasting site and lab of Wyndhams would have certainly jolted me wide awake. Mandy and Dominic, the owners of Wyndhams and directors of all things coffee, had invited me to their dynamic coffee roasting lab on the south coast of the island. They’ve been in the business for almost 20 years and I was privileged to be hosted as visits are by appointment only.
As they welcomed me to their to their cupping (coffee tasting) session, smoky, fruity and intense chocolatey aromas of freshly roasted coffee wafted in the air. The streamlined open plan room was flooded with natural sunlight and I peered through to the roasting room at the very machine Wyndhams use to apply the physics of roasting to beans sourced from all around the globe. In the lab I could hear the revving of the machine preparing itself; the roaster standing by dressed in full white overcoat and gloves, taking me back to science classes at school. Soon, a waterfall of coffee beans came pouring down and tumbling out of the roaster, crashing into one another in waves. As they fell and rotated in the drum the smoky smell of a wood fire came to mind, and the heat and sound reminded me of popcorn being made.
Back at the cupping table I was in my element, tasting coffees and using my palate to guess the origin and flavour component of the samples we cupped. One of my favourite single origins was included in the selected coffees, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Mandy and Dominic explained that they cup everyday to ensure consistency and to be able to experiment with the complexity of coffee roasting. They shared their philosophies of extracting flavour notes from coffee beans by means of “balance, expression and texture”, noting that they only purchase fresh coffee straight off the crop which is then shipped to their roasting site. All of the coffee is speciality grade as the climate in which their beans are grown is key to the roasting process. The beans are not just ‘precious stones’, they’re precious cargo too, as they are hermetically sealed and shipped in GrainPro super grain bags to preserve and protect the freshness of the coffee.
I couldn’t possibly leave without enjoying another cup and finding out a little more about how this coffee roaster in the heart of Barbados was putting speciality coffee on the Caribbean coffee map. While sipping my cortado made with an organic Sumatra ketiara – a delicious single origin espresso with the smooth texture of fresh whole milk – I asked about the names of the coffees, including Dawn Patrol. Dominic, a surfer, explains that the blends, distinctively named after surf breaks, serve as a way of personalising their brand. As I sip a blend named Soup Bowl, a nod to the island’s biggest wave, it all begins to make sense.
After spending the morning at this family-owned roasting company it was evident their travels, passion and appetite for innovation are the driving force behind Wyndhams. I’d been ‘surfed’ up some delicious coffee at their impressive roasting site, but I had one question remaining before flying off that day. Where else could I enjoy a cup of Wyndhams Bajan Crafted Roasters blends and single origin espresso coffees on Barbados? Apart from Tiki Pies bakery in Bridgetown, other choices include The Coffee Bean in Hastings, Cobblers Cove hotel in Speightstown and Relish Epicurea, a delicatessen in the Limegrove Lifestyle Centre in Holetown – so next time you’re here, make a beeline for one of these and enjoy a perfectly crafted cup.
In my caffeinated opinion, the future of specialty coffee appreciation in Barbados is as bright as its tropical sun. On my recent layover I encountered two dedicated companies who continue to pioneer the island’s coffee culture, by bridging traditional and modern practices and raising that ‘espresso’ bar.
Virgin Atlantic operates regular flights to Barbados from London Gatwick and Manchester. Our new direct winter service from London Heathrow is available to book now, with flights launching in December 2017.