I remember my first taste of real coffee like it was yesterday. Aged 20, I had just moved into a new shared house in Exeter and was struggling to open the front door with some shopping when a Norwegian guy accused me of breaking into his house. “I live here”, he said. “I do too” I said. Housemates then. Twenty minutes later, he popped his head into my room, saying he’d made me a coffee by way of apology. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t like coffee, previously having only drunk the watery instant stuff, so followed him downstairs to the terrace, where a beautiful frothy-looking concoction awaited me. The kitchen was littered with odd looking machines which I now know to be essential coffee-making paraphernalia. It was love at first sip, and I will forever be indebted to Ståle for introducing me to the real amber nectar, and showing me how to use a moka to make my own.
Fast-forward a few (ahem!) years, and I have completed the karmic circle of caffeine by introducing my boyfriend Ste to its delights. A few months ago on a trip to Florence he started to appreciate the merits of a properly made cup, especially as I was on a mission around town to re-stock on seals and filters for my moka, and spent time trawling flea markets for a set of branded espresso cups, which I duly found and had to try out that very afternoon back at our apartment.
It wasn’t until we got home to England however that I realised how badly the coffee bug had bitten him. “Come and look at this: we can get a 250g of coffee for just £1. It’s a subscription thing, but we can always cancel it after the first one”. He had stumbled across Pact Coffee, and their £1 introductory offer. We entered our preferred method of brewing (stovetop) and it came up with recommendations based on that. Here’s what is on offer today, and the recommendation of Finca Manila for stovetops:
We chose Bibi for our first bag, which to date I think has been my favourite bean. It arrived through our letterbox the very next day, parcelled up in a cardboard package with a heat-sealed paper bag inside.
We brewed up a cup, and Ste finally experienced coffee nirvana. “We’re not cancelling this”, he said, “I want to try them all!”. The great thing about Pact, we soon realised, is that it is hard to try them all – the selection is constantly changing depending on their supply, and only by drinking upwards of a bag a week could you sample every one. We are doing our best though.
Initially we bought beans, and ground them ourselves, but we have a vintage Dutch hand-grinder, and given Ste’s new-found enthusiasm for all the coffee, that soon got pretty exhausting on the arms, and although the grind was adjustable, it wasn’t quite fine enough for the moka, though perfect for cafetières. We decided to let Pact grind the beans for our stovetop instead, and have bought it this way ever since. We may yet invest in a decent grinder (though I love my pretty vintage fellow!) but for now, we’ll stick with this, given that they grind the beans just before posting, so they are rarely more than a day or so ground when they reach you.
My favourite thing about the service, aside from the quality of the coffee, which has been consistently very high (and certainly good value for £6.95 for a 250g bag when compared with the price of mass-produced coffees) is that you can tailor it perfectly to your own coffee-drinking needs. You can set it to deliver weekly or fortnightly if you like, but in a tough working week where much coffee has been consumed and you’re running low on weekend supplies, you can just log-in to your account, click the ‘ship this bag today’ button, and your coffee will be dispatched immediately. This has rescued us a couple of times when we’ve not realised how low supplies were getting, and is a godsend if you have friends over or are mainlining the cold-brew as I am at the moment to try and cool down. In fact, I just ordered another bag to arrive tomorrow – we’re heading off to my parents’ house for a big family party, and I want to share it with all of them after dinner on Saturday before sending them off into the night. There are plenty of other coffee subscription services (some better than others it would seem), but Pact is unique in this ‘immediate-supply’ method: I now consider it the fifth emergency service (move over AA).
Another thing setting them apart from the competition comes across very strongly from Pact’s blog: every person who works there is coffee-mad! From little biographies of each person including their favourite brew-methods and varieties, to coffee ‘recipe’ entries from baking to cocktails, to tips on how to brew the perfect coffee using each method and interviews with the farmers who produce their beans, the love of coffee is strong. I find it very comforting knowing that the people supplying my coffee are drinking and enjoying the very same coffee, and doing their best to make my experience the best it can be. And it isn’t a one-way street. Pact is excellent at responding to comments and queries from customers, via social media and on their blog. A recent post about why they are not Fair Trade, nor intending to join the scheme, sparked a huge response from customers and coffee-enthusiasts, prompting Pact to further clarify their position in an attempt to answer some queries, and not satisfied with that alone, to organise a forum for debate about ethical coffee (happening next Tuesday – more info below).
A Visit to the ‘Pact-ory’
Not only are they great at dealing with their customers online, but they are pretty fabulous in person too! An open invitation on their ‘About’ page asks you to visit them any time, and true to that promise, a quick email to Stephen, the founder of Pact, resulted in an invitation to pop down to Bermondsey to their headquarters. A promise of a cup of coffee, a comfy couch and a quick tour was more than enough to persuade me, so on Tuesday I headed over to see them. The Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey nowadays houses many different companies, and it wasn’t obvious how I would find them, until the delicious scent of coffee wafted across the yard and led me to their door. The office is a great open space with a mezzanine level of desks, and a large table for communal working in the centre below – I imagine it also hosts tasting (or ‘cupping’) sessions and meetings. To the right is the all important coffee bar, where I was made a flat white (or as they call it, a Pact White) from their Date and Pecan Espresso Blend (recommended) whilst I had a chat with Stephen and Brendan, the chap in charge of communications.
I had all sorts of questions I wanted to ask and I hope that Stephen didn’t feel too bombarded, but he dealt with my enthusiasm with aplomb! It seems like an exciting time for Pact. As he explained, with the arrival a couple of months ago of Will Corby, the new Head of Coffee, Pact is beginning to source its coffee direct, and is about to start roasting on the premises too, ensuring that every step of the coffee process is brought in house and under their complete control. They are recruiting for a Master Roaster at present, and rather than seeking an established person, they are opening it up to anyone with enthusiasm who is willing to learn. Stephen explained that this is because often a Roaster will develop their own personal taste preferences that they would bring to the role, whereas they would like to ensure that their Roaster is entirely focused on delivering what Pact customers want and like. I am sorely tempted to apply – the fabulous office and fun work colleagues alone would be amazing, let alone the chance to be trained by the best in the industry (the new person will undergo intensive training with their current roaster) and spend my days immersed in coffee…well, maybe I will!
Stephen showed me around the operations room, where the coffee arrives, is ground, packaged and shipped to customers. I confess to being so excited about where the magic all happens that I didn’t take very many photos, but suffice to say that every step of their process as described on the website is exactly what happens in the warehouse. I imagine that the coffee I ordered this morning is being ground on that machine in the background as we speak, and packaged up for delivery tomorrow.
The question of ethical coffee came up, and Stephen explained that this is something they have wrangled with a lot lately. Fairtrade is obviously a great aim – providing a fair price to farmers and workers – but in practice it is very difficult to monitor, and is primarily aimed at the commodity market, as opposed to speciality coffees. Indeed, Fairtrade is not concerned with quality, which is of course crucial for Pact. Instead they ensure that farmers are paid more for their beans than they would receive with Fairtrade, in order to incentivise them to continue to produce coffee that is over and above the rest. Once they begin sourcing their beans directly, they have pledged to publish the price paid to the farmer, for visible accountability. This is only one element of ethical trade though, and Pact are keen to explore all ways of maximising their positive impact. As a result, they are holding an open ‘Ethical Coffee Forum’ event and inviting anyone with an interest to come along. It’s 6-8pm (BST) next Tuesday 29th July, in Bermondsey. If you would like to get involved, you can find more information here. If you can’t get to Bermondsey, you can also watch live via Google Hangouts or You Tube.
How to get your own £1 Pact Coffee!
Stephen kindly agreed to allow me to extend the £1-a-bag introductory offer to all of you! Simply go to the www.pactcoffee.com and enter the voucher code: LETSGO at the checkout. If you love coffee, give it a try. You can and will love coffee even more, I assure you! Feel free to pass it on to your friends too, or anyone who loves good coffee. You can even buy gift subscriptions for your loved ones, which would be a heck of a lot better than socks this Christmas!
Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored by Pact, and all opinions are my own. As you have read, I loved Pact even before I met the lovely people it’s run by!
Top image borrowed from Pact’s blog and doctored a little! All other images my own.