This Saturday (3rd July) we’re celebrating ten years in business with a gig at our roastery in Aberfeldy. Our founder, Fiona, tells the story here of how we have grown from our origins in a remote Highland bothy.
My love for coffee started in South America when I lived in Bolivia and travelled extensively throughout the region working as a journalist and later as a writer for Lonely Planet. During this time I visited a number of coffee farms and will never forget travelling down the infamous “Death Road” in the Bolivian Andes with a coffee buyer who had a suitcase of cash and a loaded gun in the glove compartment for protection.
But the idea to actually set up a roastey didn’t take hold until many years later on a family camping trip down the West Coast of the United States. We came across micro-roasteries in many of the towns that we visited and this inspired me to set up a coffee roastery back home in Glenlyon in Perthshire.
I found an old Turkish coffee roaster for sale on eBay, installed it in the bothy next to our house and started selling small batch roasts at farmers markets. The first years were definitely the hardest with no help and no heating in the bothy. My biggest challenge was getting lorries to deliver green coffee beans along 10 miles of single-track road with several having to be regularly dug out of snowdrifts.
As the business grew we invested in better machinery and moved to our nearby town of Aberfeldy. We are now in a beautiful large and airy space in the Business Park where our international team roasts ethically sourced speciality coffees from around the world and supplies cafes, restaurants and individuals across Scotland and beyond.
We source most of our coffee from Latin America and East Africa and travel to meet our producers every year (although sadly not in the midst of a global pandemic). My husband Jamie and I met in Bolivia and this is definitely one of our favourite coffee origins to buy from and visit. We always buy our coffee seasonally and the summer sees the arrivals of some delicious Costa Ricans, Ethiopians and Guatemalans.
In 2019 I qualified a Q grader, which means I’m licensed to grade and score arabica coffee. There are just a handful of us Q graders in Scotland and the speciality coffee scene in Scotland is a supportive and friendly one. My main role now at Glen Lyon is buying green coffee and I spend much of my day roasting samples and cupping potential new coffees as well as carrying out quality control on the batches of coffee we roast.
At the heart of Glen Lyon Coffee is our mission is to put people and the environment before profit and we are committed to zero waste. Our packaging is all fully compostable, we make local deliveries in our company’s electric car and plan to get solar panels installed on the roof of our roastery next year. Every year our team plants trees in the Highlands to offset our carbon footprint and we have partnered with the Scottish rewilding charity’ Trees for Life’ whose vision is of a revitalised wild forest in the Highlands of Scotland, providing space for wildlife to flourish and communities to thrive. A percentage of sales from True North, our latest blend, raises funds for the charity.
Despite the lockdown, 2021 so far has been a busy year for us which also saw us launch our Coffee Academy, in partnership with the youth charity Project Northern Lights, to support school leavers into work with a three-month mentoring program, internationally recognised qualifications and work experience. It’s no secret that lockdown has seen increased mental health issues, anxiety and isolation among young people. We hope that our Coffee Academy will help boost participants’ confidence, social skills and self-esteem and have a positive impact on helping young people find their feet and employment as we come out of the pandemic.
When I look back to those early days ten years ago I am so proud at how far Glen Lyon has come. It has been the most incredible journey and I am eternally grateful for all of the amazing producers, suppliers, colleagues, customers and friends that have supported us along the way. Coffee for me will always be so much more than just a bean, I feel it is a conduit that joins people and communities together across the world.