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Coffee and a chat with Tony from H. R. Higgins

Tony Higgins is the son of Harold Higgins, the H.R. Higgins founder. At 83 years old, Tony still works for the business with his son, David Higgins who is now the Managing Director. This year, the business is celebrating its 75th year and consecutively, its 40th year of holding the Royal Warrant.  

A Brief History

Harold Rees Higgins (H.R. Higgins) was born in 1897 and was apprenticed by his father to what was then, prior to the First World War, the specialist and high-class grocery trade. It was after a few years of moving up the ranks to more high-class establishments that he found his special interest in coffee and tea, especially in coffee. After serving in the First World War, he resumed his grocery training and advanced to hold several important managerial positions.

His ambition fast became opening his own coffee business, and in 1942, aged 45, he decided to do just that. Despite the troubling conditions of World War Two, Harold’s ambition was to roast coffee for businesses and individuals who were finding it hard to source coffee at that time.

With the business booming, Harold opened the first H.R. Higgins shop in 1946 on 42 South Molton Street where he roasted coffee on the premises. In 1986, the business moved to 79 Duke Street in Mayfair, London which is where it still operates.

How did you come up with the name for the business? 

When my father started the business, he wanted to make it clear who he was and what he sold. Harold took the title Coffee-Man which comes from the Seventeenth Century coffee house keepers in the United Kingdom.

Tell us a bit about your town/city? 

The shop is still based in the beautiful area of Mayfair in London’s West End. I have always enjoyed that part of London and my father would encourage me to explore and appreciate the high-class shops and businesses in the area. I personally live in Harpenden, Hertfordshire but very much enjoy coming into central London and working at the shop.

How do you make your coffee? 

I enjoy all methods of brewing, but if I have to state a preference, I would say the filter method.  I like it because I believe you can prepare any variety or roast style by using this method and it makes a really fresh, clean tasting cup of coffee. It’s also a lovely thing to take a few minutes out of the day to just concentrate on making coffee and nothing else – I really enjoy it.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am Tony Higgins, or “Mr Tony” as the team like to refer to me. I was born in 1937, first visiting my father’s business when I was six and enjoyed my first cups (which were in fact large cupping bowls) of coffee.  I think I began to fall in love with coffee and the business from that moment when I tasted the first delicious sips of the product that would involve me for the rest of my life.  I spent most of my free time in the business, finally joining full time when I left school in 1953.  In 1967, I became Managing Director in 1967 and my father sadly died in 1968. I was so pleased when in 1982 my son, David, joined the company who then took over as Managing Director in 2003.  

Tony and David Higgins

What’s life outside roasting like for you? 

Outside of the business I enjoy meeting people and I am a member of The Methodist Church, my home church being High Street Harpenden. I am a lay preacher within the Methodist Church.

Where was the last place you travelled to? 

My last visit abroad was to Cologne in Germany.

What was the last book you read? 

My last book was “Not in my name” by Jonathan Sachs.

What’s your biggest passion or love? 

I enjoy singing, I go to art classes – watercolours are my first love. I also enjoy collecting items regarding coffee.