Co-LAB

The road to responsible business

If you're into your coffee you've probably already come across Workshop Coffee. If not, we'd strongly recommend you give them a try, either served fresh through their numerous coffee bars and partners, or with a delivery of beans direct to your door.

We've known Richard Frazier, Workshop's CMO, for a few years now, originally connecting through the cycling world - of course. One of the first things that struck us beyond the great tasting coffee was the way that they do business: a hands-on approach to sustainability. On a recent Zoom call, David and Richard took the chance to talk business in a conversation that spanned responsibility, brand and - of course - coffee:

D: I’d love to learn more about workshop, what’s the history of it?

R: Yeah, of course! We were founded in 2010 in an old Victorian workshop in Clerkenwell, London. The whole idea was to be quality focussed from the outset and vertically integrated as a company. That meant being involved in every part of the product from beginning to end. So, we had green coffee coming into the building via the front door, the coffee roaster working away and visible at the back of the shop and then those coffees  were being served by fantastic barista’s at the front of the bar.

 

D: There’s not a lot visible about the brand history so that’s interesting:

R: We try and stay out of the way and talk about the people who’ve grown, produced and harvested the coffee in different regions around the world. We go right into every part of the sourcing, the roasting and then the brewing right at the end. 

D: It’s interesting with that, by taking that approach, you almost by default take responsibility of where you source products from.

R: 100% - we’ve always been conscious of that. Being ethical is almost a by-product of focussing on quality of the product and the relationships that we have with the producers and farmers {…} We don’t put Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade stamps on our bags as, for the farmers it’s just not always viable. But the practices the farmers we work with are following are tantamount to those things – essentially, they’re already doing it or working towards it.

D: Yeah, once you take that responsibility of going to the source, seeing how things are made and meeting the people, that’s almost better than just checking they have a stamp.

R: Totally, another thing is that coffee has for a long time been seen as a commodity. Many of us are much more aware of what we’re eating/drinking now and where it’s come from, but coffee was overlooked in that sense. Ultimately, coffee’s a fruit and it should be sourced and enjoyed seasonally like your strawberries are. 

D: That’s the thing. That’s what’s happened to us on the CHPT3 journey. We’ve grown really naturally, we’re self-funded and we’ve spent time meeting the people who make our products along the way. It’s what I enjoy most about what we’re doing - meeting these producers and learning from them. Whether that’s Cookson & Clegg (our future casual clothing manufacturer), Brompton or Restrap… They’re all taking responsibility to do things the right way. I think we have a responsibility to know who’s making our stuff and know its whole journey. I hope as we go through this is that we become more sustainable.

D: You’re into cycling, aren’t you?  

R: Yes, love cycling!

D: And Workshop have quite a crossover with cycling too, isn’t that right?

R: Yes, we have two coffee bars near Regent’s park, so we get a lot of cyclists stopping by after their morning laps. We’ve also been working with a cycling group called The 5th Floor for years; they’re great – they’re amazing riders, but have never taken themselves too seriously and have a nice casual approach to cycling. We also work with G!RO in Esher, so that’s really kept us close to the cycling community.

D: So, a few years ago, coffee could seem very elitist. Now people tend to want to know more about it.

R: Exactly right. It’s one of the biggest mistakes the speciality part of the coffee industry made - that’s the danger of defining yourself by what you’re not than what you are. We’ve always aimed to be approachable rather than taking a dogmatic, ‘don’t add sugar, don’t add milk.’ tack.

D: Yeah, it seems coffees really entered the mainstream now – you hear more and more people talk with knowledge about it. A few years ago, that might have been really snobby, but now people are much cooler with it.

R: How have you approached the ‘elitism’ side of cycling?

D: I suppose we started off quite elite… there’s a couple of reasons for that: namely because that’s what Castelli were interested in doing as a line extension. I liked that at the beginning, I just saw it as something very different and sartorial. I didn’t see it as elite. But the company has grown and changed and we all have different ways of  riding: with our kids, road, mtb. gravel, e-bikes, around town… We’re not any one thing. It’s very easy to get stuck on your rails in cycling companies and I see a lot of them find it hard to change as they’re too far down. I’d like us at CHPT3 to be able to do all these different things and represent what it’s like to be a cyclist. We definitely want to keep an element there at the top, but that’s not where the volume of people we want are and it’s not exactly where we are as cyclists.

R: Where I see Workshop Coffee sitting - and I also think CHPT3 is very similar - we’re not necessarily the first coffee brand you’ll try, and your first cycling jersey may not be a CHPT3. But it’s a process and a journey. It’s about allowing people to come in and feel like they can come in when they’re ready to.

D: Exactly that. As we put it, you don’t start at CHPT3. Cycling can be so cyclical and ‘trendy’, like fashion. We like to sit on the edge of all of that. You know that there’s a certain individuality to a CHPT3 product and you’re dressing yourself rather than joining a tribe. We want to be known for producing products which are quality, which last and don’t just follow trends or plug every gap for the sake of it. We don’t need twenty different pairs of shorts. That’s great for increasing revenue but it’s not very honest to the customer.