Inside Square Mile Coffee, Café Imports & Aida Batlle Cupping in London

Lovely mugs.

More than 30 London coffee professionals gathered at Square Mile Coffee Roasters headquarters in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London on Sunday evening for a rare cupping of some special El Salavdoran coffees stamped with the Aida Batlle Selection (ABS) seal-of-approval, and imported and up for offer throughout Europe by Café Imports. Aida works with the esteemed El Salvadoran mill, J. Hill y Cia, to make the program and the meticulous processing methods required work.

James, Aida and friends chat about the Aida Batlle Selection coffees on the table.

James, Aida and friends chat about the Aida Batlle Selection coffees on the table.

Growing a coffee tree in London? If anyone can do it, Square Mile can.

Growing a coffee tree in London? If anyone can do it, Square Mile can.

Aida was on hand in person to answer questions and offer insights about the different processing methods used at the J. Hill y Cia mill in Santa Ana, El Salvador, for these coffees. Also on the table were a selection of spot coffees offered by Café Imports from around the globe.

Anette tells the group about the Café Imports cupping forms, which are available for free download at cafeimports.com.

Anette tells the group about the Café Imports cupping forms, which are available for free download at cafeimports.com.

“I couldn’t be happier with how this event played out,” Aida said after the cupping, when the group was welcomed into Square Mile’s shipping bay for an impromptu barbecue complete with local microbrew beer. “It’s always fascinating to me to see peoples’ reactions to the ABS processes—we work hard throughout the year to insure that these processes are carried through meticulously, from picking and sorting though, of course, wet milling and drying, and all the way up to shipping.”

The Square Mile team readies for the cupping.

The Square Mile team readies for the cupping.

Aida’s coffees have been a favorite of baristas competing at the international level; 2012 United States Barista Champion Katie Carguilo used Aida’s coffee to win the U.S. competition and carry through to the World Barista Championship in Vienna; as did Greek Barista Champion Stefanos Domatiotis. “There’s no greater compliment than if a barista of that level chooses to use a coffee from either my family farms (as Katie did) or from the Aida Batlle Selection coffees (as Stefanos did),” says Aida. “These are the people leading the industry in trends and innovation.”

UK Barista Champion John Gordon sets up for the second flight.

UK Barista Champion John Gordon sets up for the second flight.

The story was no different at Square Mile Coffee as baristas—including reigning UK Barista Champion John Gordon of Square Mile, as well as third-place finisher in the UKBC, Estelle Bright of Caravan Coffee—as well as roasters gathered in the charming Shoreditch training space to cup the coffees.

Estelle and Tom (at right) of Caravan Coffee take detailed notes.

Estelle and Tom (at right) of Caravan Coffee take detailed notes.

Visitors were welcomed at the impressive Square Mile reception, where mountains of competition trophies from the World Barista Championship, the World Cup Taster’s Championship, roasting awards, national trophies, medals of coffee distinction, and more are displayed in the seating area. To the right is a spacious office area for the company’s 12 staffers. Beyond that is a charmingly appointed training room and cupping area (UKBC Champ John Gordon is, apparently, as handy with carpentry as he is with espresso, as he’s built out most of the area himself). Scores of maps adorn the walls, inviting appreciative gazes from cuppers as they wait for coffees to cool.

Between flights, James Hoffmann of Square Mile and Gabe chat, while Jessica MacDonald and John Gordon of Square Mile get ready.

Between flights, James Hoffmann of Square Mile and Gabe chat, while Jessica MacDonald and John Gordon of Square Mile get ready.

Anette gave me, Aida, and also Noah Namowicz of Café Imports—who oversees the U.S.-based importers’ international sales—a thorough tour of the entire workshop, including a warm and friendly roasting area with two big machines, operated most often by head roaster Jessica MacDonald. Green storage is packed to the gills, which is why, Anette told us, they will be breaking through the wall to the space next door in a matter of weeks.

The magic machine behind Square Mile's world-renowned roasts.

The magic machine behind Square Mile’s world-renowned roasts.

Noah delights in the makeshift table created with pallets.

Noah delights in the makeshift table created with pallets.

Square Mile mascots.

Square Mile mascots.

Wall of trophies in the Square Mile reception room.

Wall of trophies in the Square Mile reception room.

The cupping itself was a serious affair. These are British coffee people, after all—not only are they extremely well-heeled in their coffee knowledge, they’re a bit reserved when it comes to throwing impressions out in open discussion. But the always charming Aida, whose affable and humble demeanor as she explained why and how she got into experimental processing put the crowd at ease.

Aida addresses the group during the cupping.

Aida addresses the group during the cupping.

Careful cupping and note taking during the event.

Careful cupping and note taking during the event.

The event was organized primarily by Gabriel Dunn of Café Imports, who works entirely with European roasters, as well as the team from Square Mile, primarily Jessica MacDonald and John Gordon.

Roaster to roaster: Jess and Gabe discuss the coffees.

Roaster to roaster: Jess and Gabe discuss the coffees.

At the cupping.

At the cupping.

Cupping at Square Mile in London.

Cupping at Square Mile in London.

Working through the second cupping table.

Working through the second cupping table.

Cupping Aida Batlle Selection (ABS) coffees.

Cupping Aida Batlle Selection (ABS) coffees.

Cupping at Square Mile.

Cupping at Square Mile.

Noah of CaféImports checks out the coffees.

Noah of CaféImports checks out the coffees.

Jess relaxes after all of her hard work getting the event organized!

Jess relaxes after all of her hard work getting the event organized!

Lovely mugs.

Lovely mugs.

Does this image look familiar? Here Anette poses in the exact same chair in which she was photographed for the cover of Barista Magazine's June+July 2010 cover.

Does this image look familiar? Here Anette poses in the exact same chair in which she was photographed for the cover of Barista Magazine’s June+July 2010 cover.

Enough said.

Enough said.

Gabe's sample roaster.

Gabe’s sample roaster.

Gabe of Café Imports gets some last minute work done in the Square Mile office.

Gabe of Café Imports gets some last minute work done in the Square Mile office.

If you missed the event but are at or headed to the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe’s World of Coffee event in Nice, France this week, there’s still an opportunity to taste these incredible coffees alongside Aida and the team from Café Imports: from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 27, at the Acropolis convention center where World of Coffee is taking place. To reserve your spot, email Gabe from Café Imports at gabe@cafeimports.com

About the Author

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.