You might have noticed over the last year that Sneinton Market has been picked up, given a dusting down and had a whole lotta love sprinkled over it. It’s no longer the place that time forgot and is quickly filling up with many a creative endeavour. One of its newest residents is Blend, a coffee shop whose light, airy environment begs you to pop in, and Stewarts of Trent Bridge, a coffee roastery right next door. We spoke to the main men behind the business about what they’re up to…
It’s not an uncanny coincidence that a coffee shop has opened up next to a roastery, the companies are one and the same, but they felt that a distinction should be made. Mark, their Commercial Sales Manager, explained why: “Stewart Falcon started Stewarts of Trent Bridge; we respect those roots and since his retirement we’ve spent years building up Stewarts as a name associated with a consistency of quality and service. To throw that out of the window would be wrong. But Blend in itself is something that can be taken elsewhere, and is more than just coffee.” The Director, Nathan Barton, agrees, “We wanted the space to feel like a place to be together as opposed to being somewhere where we talk to you endlessly about coffee and brew methods. It’s a bit more than a coffee shop, but we don’t know what the word is for it.”
Although it’s early days, having only opened at the end of February, they’ve already been the starting point for a vintage bike ride and a Sofar Sounds. Blend’s manager, Sam Harris, is excited about what the space has to offer. “We’ve got the plaza outside which is so open, there could be anything from an outdoor cinema, live music, comedians – the possibilities are endless.” Nathan agrees and sees it as part of the bigger Sneinton Market community. “It’s a communal space and the plaza can be used as a central point. But also, how nice would it be to sit in the sunshine watching the coffee being roasted while you’re having a cup of the very same stuff?”
They’re not the only place where you can get a cup of the good stuff on Sneinton Market, and I wondered what their thoughts were on that. “A lot of them kept us going while we were doing the work next door, so we’ve got to give them props for the bacon cobs,” Mark quipped. It’s true, the cafes on the market offer different things. Blend’s food looks amazing. Thankfully I’d already had my lunch before I popped down, and saved myself the embarrassment of drooling when they went through their fine fayre: grilled cheese sandwiches with super secret cheese blends (and punny names), gluten-free cakes, alcohol-drenched cakes, vegan options galore, plus soups, salads and sandwiches.
So, the humble grilled cheese sandwich is now a thing, just ask any London hipster. Sam is very excited about their menu. “They’re not toasties. We wanted the stringiness, we wanted it oozing out onto the plate. With the grilled cheese, we wanted to get that option for vegans, and we were intent on using a particular soy milk. It’s super creamy, it steams really well and has a good mouth feel. All of our pastries are vegan. We also have cakes from Oozy Boozy Cakes; gin and tonic cake, rum brownies. We’ve got non-alcoholic cakes too, obviously.”
Back to the coffee. They are the only premium coffee establishment in the area, and seeing the roastery really does add to the experience. Sam says that he’s already shown quite a few punters the other side of the business. “I’ve shown people the roaster and introduced them to Nathan or Jackov, told them a bit about the roasting process, given them the background of the coffee; that uniqueness, that closeness of the roaster. It’s the story.” Although all their beans aren’t Fairtrade, Nathan is keen to stress that they aren’t reckless buyers of the bean. “We have organic and Fairtrade blends, but all our beans come from an importer who invests in their sources of coffee in terms of the farms they work with. There are co-operatives in places, but it doesn’t carry the Fairtrade trademark.
Another hot topic at the moment is the waste that comes from our nation’s love of grabbing a cup of Joe on a regular basis. They’re looking into selling reusable cups and offering discounts to customers that use them. But they still want to make as little impact on the environment as possible. “We use a company called Vegware, and everything of theirs is fully compostable. They’re not the cheapest cups, we could easily get cheaper cups and increase our profit margin, but we want to do our bit,” Mark states. “The amount of rubbish knocking around on the streets of Nottingham is scandalous.”
As for people that would love to move on from the tired old instant coffee in their home but are intimidated by the myriad of coffee-brewing products on the market, I asked them if they had any advice for newbies to home brewing. “It’s very simple. You dust off the cafetiere that’s inevitably in the back of your cupboard, buy coffee and start making coffee,” Nathan says without pretence. “It’s one of our taglines, ‘Just enjoy your coffee.’” Mark agrees, “Don’t be intimidated by all the Instagram latte arts, machines and all that. They’re nice to look at but they can freak you out and put you off. Do I need to spend £1,500 on this machine that I’m going to get bored of using? No. I can grab something for £4 from IKEA that does the job.”
Nathan, Mark, Sam and all the staff are as down-to-earth as you can get, and although they know their stuff and will wax lyrical about it for hours if you ask, they seem to want to give you what you want – coffee. “We don’t want to be a snobby coffee space. We’ll make you a nice coffee that we’ve roasted next door and gone through all the processes to make it nice. But we won’t lecture you on it, we won’t try and dazzle you with different ways of making it and frown upon you if you want syrup in it,” Nathan explains. “We need to reclaim coffee, it’s a staple part of the day.”
Amen to that. Let’s thank the lord that Stewart Falcon handed over his beloved business to the right people and they’re letting us enjoy the seeds of the fruits of their labour.
Blend, Avenue C, Sneinton Market, NG1 1DW.
Stewarts of Trent Bridge website