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Coffee and a chat with Ian from Atkinsons

How did you come up with its name?

We took over an old family business called J. Atkinson & Co. about fourteen years ago. The ‘J’ stood for Jane, Thomas Atkinson’s wife. They both had a seriously stern gaze in the portraits of them on old tea chests, that glared down at shoppers as the founders of the company. We started to use the snappier title of Atkinsons a few years later, to appear in higher up the list in alphabetical searches and it kind of stuck.

How long have you been in business and how did the idea start?

The business was founded way back in 1837 as The Grasshopper Tea Warehouse, one of six tea merchants in the bustling port of Lancaster at that time. When my wife, Sue and I stepped in, back in 2004 as two refugees from the creative industries, our job of brand-building was made easier by virtue of the fact that we had a beautiful old logo – the Grasshopper, an ancient symbol of quality. When I asked my predecessor: Why the grasshopper? His rather mystical response was: “Because… The Grasshopper Only Eats the Finest of Leaves” – So there we had it! Not only a logo, but a slogan that also translates as a Mission Statement.


What’s your favourite thing about living in your town?

Lancaster is hive of cultural activity. It’s a small city with a long history, of which Atkinsons is a crucial part. You can be in the Lake District in half an hour and the skyline of the fells is ever present on the horizon. But of course it is the people that really make a city and I love the fact that it is small enough to know people, at least on nodding terms, as you go about the place. In fact I have to build in 15mins contingency when I leave the shop, if I just want to cross the main square, to allow time for those who stop me for a chat!

Where’s your favourite place nearby to visit?

There are many great stretches of countryside all around us but I do love the Northern Lakes. They are just that little bit further away from the maddening crowds!

Do you have any local tips? Maybe there’s a hidden gem you’d like to share?

Lancaster Castle is right in our back yard and has only just recently stopped being a prison, the oldest continuous one in the world, for 900 years or so! Nobody locally ever expected it to become fully open to the public but suddenly it is being renovated and when it is all finished it will be a huge asset to the city and a must-see attraction, covering all those nine different centuries of building.

Which is your favourite coffee / origin and why

Hard to single any one of them out but my favourite all-time coffee has to be Red Bourbon Honey from Café Granja La Esperanza in Colombia. It is sweet as fudge, or panela as they would call it in Colombia with a succulent malic acidity. We first tasted it on a DRW cupping table at London Coffee Festival about six years ago and have stocked it ever since. I went to visit the farm with my youngest son, Caspar and they gave us an amazingly warm welcome and an unforgettable trip.

What’s your favourite brewing method?

The only time I make coffee at home is on a Sunday morning. That’s when I become a consumer. I currently enjoy the ritual of the three-cup Chemex with the origami-like folding of the half -moon papers. It slows you down and makes it all the more special. Isn’t there something ‘magic numbers’ about the diameter of the puck or something? I need all the help I can get in the brewing department! I love brewing something on a Sunday that I’ve roasted on a Saturday on the old Uno in the shop. It’s the best kind of Quality Control.

How do you take your coffee?


What’s life outside roasting like for you?

Being a family firm my life/work balance is completely interwoven. I see my wife and sons nearly every day, so I feel blessed in that respect, although I know you’re supposed to have a hobby. When Saturday comes I’m usually roasting. When Sunday comes I’m usually gardening or off on a longer dog walk than the weekday variety!

What would you be doing if you weren’t roasting? Maybe you already have a side project?

Writing & Film-making. I worked as a TV Producer and Film Director for 20  years BC (Before Coffee). So when we travel to origin I feel like I should record the events and people there, to return the favour of the privilege of visiting. We recently discovered that our blog was in the top 40 coffee blogs on the planet, straight into the charts at No.24! So, it’s a nice feeling that we’re not just talking into a void. Coffee has so many subjects it can cover. I try to make the stories personal yet covering universal themes.

Where was the last place you travelled to?

Rwanda. What an inspirational place and such a beautiful country.

What was the last book you read?

Factfulness – Ten Reasons Why We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

What’s your biggest passion or love?

Joanna Lumley, er… no, sorry, I mean my wife!

How and what do you do to unwind?

Stare into the sunset, or watch the moon rise. If neither are available just indulge in a spot of ‘cloudspotting’ outside with a good single malt, preferably from Islay.

Maybe you have a tip for our readers?

Don’t follow me, I’m lost too!

Do you have a mantra you live by?

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think…