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Full of Potential: Redemption Roasters

Eleanor De, about 6 years ago

Redemption Roasters is a speciality roasters and wholesaler who believes that aims to reduce reoffending in the UK through coffee. We spoke to Head Roaster, Harry Graham, about their work.

Tell me about the origins of Redemption Roasters.

The Ministry of Justice approached us at London Coffee Festival and asked if we would be interested in training Young Offenders on barista skills, so that they could seek employment in the industry upon release.

We looked at what we could achieve and we realised that it wouldn't be enough to just teach YOs the basics and hope they could scrape together a barista job. They had to be the best candidate at any interview in order to get the job. So, it wouldn't be enough to just offer some training at existing prison cafes. We had to do something world class.

That's why we bought a roaster, and got both the current Coffee Masters machine FAEMA E71 with the classic FAEMA E61 for the YOs to train on. This enabled us to train them on a complete range, from classic manual style machines to modern computerised ones with specialist features. The access to a roaster was a big decision for us, as they are a serious financial investment, and set the tone of the training to include the rich history of coffee, the science behind the process, and of course maths.

What kind of support does Redemption Roasters offer?

We run the Redemption Roastery as a place of employment. It might count as one of the prison workshops, but what we know is how to give people jobs, and that's what we stick to. The team at the roastery apply to join us, and once with us spend their first two weeks learning a high standard of barista skills. Once they've reached a certain skill level we allow them to take a Challenge, where they demonstrate their skills and knowledge to us. This Challenge includes making 10 drinks in 10 minutes, a quickfire question round about coffee history, and setting their grinder from scratch with only a small amount of coffee used.

If they pass this challenge we allow them to work in the coffee shop fully, on the other side of the bar where the modern E71 machine sits. Here they serve customers including visitors and the prison team beverages and food, as close to a real coffee shop as we could achieve. They refine their barista skills here with practice, including mastering the various competition level patterns on the latte art dice and becoming familiar with adjusting the grinders to attain certain flavours.

The final stage of the course is all focused on the roasting, where they apply their knowledge gained in the previous levels. Roasting training covers a deeper knowledge of coffee history, including the nuances of regions and farms that produce certain flavours in the cup. We also cover the scientific reactions that occur in the roasting process, the variables that can influence the flavour during this process, and how to maintain quality control.

Once the roasters finish their training they apply what they've learnt into producing their own signature bean. We take samples from all over the world, and do a series of knockout cupping rounds to determine which bean they will be roasting. Once they decide on one, only they roast it, and we offer it to our wholesale customers around the country as a single origin product they can use in their shops.

What has been your experience with the people with convictions you have employed?

They are much more focused than people on the outside. I truly hope they can learn to use that when they are released, as the level of focus they are able to attain would set them far ahead of competition in the field.

How do measure success? What kind of success have you had?

Success to us is if we impart the teaching that the YOs should pursue what they love and get talented at it in order to make it in life, and of course reducing their re-offending. As we spend so much time working with each and every person any reoffending will hit us hard. They won't be a statistic, they will be the person we've worked alongside for the past year or more.

What are your plans and hopes for the future?

We hope to establish our training reputation internationally as a world class level of training, and see a few of our released prisoners land roles in the industry. We will be employing a few ourselves at our new shop in Holborn, but our true goal is to one day go into a well respected coffee shop and see one of our trainees happy behind a machine.

What would you say to a business that is interested in employing ex-offenders but has reservations?

I would tell them to reflect on where their reservations come from. If it comes from a lack of understanding or a fear of the unknown, I would invite them to visit us at our roastery. If it comes from worries about quality, I would ask the business to give them a chance to prove themselves at an interview. If it comes from a fear that you won't be up to the task of employing them, I would say that they have to question if they're strong enough to employ anyone at all, as hiring anyone should always be taken seriously and never treated as easy.

You can support Redemption Roasters by buying their coffee, following them on Instagram or Twitter or visiting their coffee shop at 84b Lamb's Conduit St, Bloomsbury, London.