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Coffee and a chat with Nick from Stokes

How did you come up with its name? 

Can’t take credit for this I’m afraid, Stokes was the name of my Great Grandfather who started the business over 100 years ago.

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

The business has been going since 1902, RW Stokes began as a general grocer before focusing on his passion specialising in sourcing, blending and roasting tea and coffee. He bought his first café in 1913 and several others over the years. In 1937, he took over the High Bridge café, and we’ve been there ever since.

Our wholesale business grew organically on the back of the retail and catering arm, but now wholesale is by far the largest part of the business. Since I took the reins, we’ve developed our successful online business, opened another café and moved into an asylum (no comments).

A bit about your town / city…

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

Lincoln is a hidden gem. Everybody who comes for a first visit is amazed by the place. It has a beautiful historic part near the Castle and Cathedral and the town centre is bustling (when there is not a pandemic going on, that is). It’s relatively small (100k population) so is easy to navigate and we’re surrounded by beautiful countryside.

Where’s your favourite place nearby to visit?

During the pandemic, working from home, we’ve been going on lots of walks. Nearby we have some beautiful parks; The Arboretum is a city centre park, Boultham park and Hartsholme park are also all great outdoor spaces. The South and West common are all great places to visit too, especially with the kids and a dog. Further afield, we’re lucky to be relatively close to the East coast and there are some beautiful beaches around 40 miles from our doorstep.

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

Lincoln Cathedral is spectacular, and the Castle has one of the three copies of Magna carter. Steep Hill is gorgeous, an extremely steep cobbled hill with lots of independent shops to visit.

A bit about coffee…

Which is your favourite coffee / origin and why?

At the moment I’m really enjoying our Kenyan coffee. Loving the Monte Cristo Brazilian as well and we have some seriously special seasonal coffees from various origins – it’s so hard to choose just one!

What’s your favourite brewing method? 

For the Kenya I’d always use a V60 or an AeroPress.

I inherited an integrated bean to cup machine (please don’t judge) when I moved into my current house and I’m really enjoying the espresso button. The Monte Cristo is excellent as an espresso and my 7 year old barista in training, is happily pressing away and bringing me coffees whilst I’ve been working from home.

How do you take your coffee? 

Sitting down.

Really though, I would always order a flat white when I’m out, but at home I tend to stick to a pour over or espresso.

A bit about you… 

How did you come to work in coffee? 

I grew up with the business. Each day, after school I used to be the delivery boy and take stock from the warehouse to the cafes and shops on a big old wheelbarrow. The High street shop used to get through loads of coffee at that time, so it was hard work lugging everything up 4 flights of stairs. The High Bridge is a Tudor building and the storeroom was at the very top in an attic.  I got £15 a week. I later worked in the kitchen on the weekends and then began roasting under the watchful eye of my dad and brother. I moved away from Lincoln for quite a few years and had a career in the theatre before returning to Lincoln in 2004. I’ve done pretty much every job in the business at some point and now I’m working on developing the business for the future.

What’s life like outside roasting for you? 

I have two children, so they keep me very busy.

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

I bought a 19th Century asylum, The Lawn,  4 years ago to expand and re-house the business, which had outgrown its previous location. That alone has kept me incredibly busy for the last few years. We now have 12 other businesses housed within the Lawn. It also has a small theatre, the Blue room, which I love getting involved with and I really wanted to help bring great quality performances to Lincoln. I still have a few contacts from the theatre world, so pre-lock down, we had a great programme of music and theatre lined up. All this has had to be put on hold for the foreseeable. If it wasn’t coffee, I’d probably be back working in the arts full time.

Where was the last place you travelled to?

Montreal, my partner is from there.

What was the last book you read?

‘In the garden of beasts’ by Erik Larson. I enjoy history, so this was right up my alley.

What’s your biggest passion or love? 

I love music of all kinds and I enjoy playing the piano, however, during lockdown, I’ve discovered a new passion for gardening. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I have really appreciated  being outside and having something to do that just keeps me in the zone.

How and what do you do to unwind? Maybe you have a tip for our readers? Do you have a mantra you live by?

I try and keep fit and as an ex professional dancer I still feel the need to move. So, I go to the gym which is currently in my garage and I teach the occasional fitness and dance class.

Getting moving really has a positive effect on wellbeing and I always feel so much more alive and ready to face a challenge when I’ve pushed myself hard physically.