Edgcumbes Coffee Roasters & Tea Merchants is a family-run business based in West Sussex which offers its customers some of the world’s best, fresh-roasted coffees and loose-leaf teas. With decades of expertise under their belt, Edgcumbes is all about bringing their customers the very freshest teas and coffees in a simple and accessible manner. As they say, ‘blending and brewing is an art, but a simple one that we want to share’.

Alice Rendle, Director at Edgcumbes 

Where does your passion for coffee and tea come from?

The business was started nearly 40 years ago by my father-in-law. He lived in India for a while, which is where my husband grew up. And when he came back from Calcutta to the UK, he really started missing the different tea options. In India, that’s a lot of what they drink. So, he decided to set up a little business selling loose-leaf tea to customers, mainly to cafes and restaurants along the coast. That was four decades ago, and no one was in the slightest bit interested in his lovely teas, unfortunately; everyone was content with tea bags. The business did however receive interest from hotels and restaurants, who asked if he would supply them with coffee.

That’s how it started, with a passion on the tea side. Tea is a big, big part of our heritage, and we only drank loose-leaf tea. And if seems to me that it’s coming full circle now, with the younger generation really getting in on the fact that loose-leaf tea is much better than tea bags, because it tastes better, fresher, and more sustainable.

“Our attitude is that it’s amazingly simple to get the best quality of tea and coffee”

As for the coffee side, my husband is a coffee nut. And coffee has undergone its own cultural revolution; 30 years ago, everyone was drinking instant coffee. Yet now, again, people are awakening to the fact that freshly ground coffee is just much better. And because we have this heritage and history, we are able to understand what customers want, simply because we’ve been doing this for so long.

Loose-leaf tea is at the centre of Edgcumbes

Our attitude is that it’s amazingly simple to get the best quality of tea and coffee. The issue is that you can complicate tea and coffee very easily, and people can get bamboozled by it. At the end of the day though, we have a very simple mantra which is that ‘fresh is best’. The freshest coffee and the freshest tea, coffee beans that have been roasted fresh and tea that comes straight from where it’s grown. What we offer is really good coffee and tea, delivered in a way that’s straightforward.

It seems that it’s quite easy to get intimidated by the wealth of options.

It really is, and we feel very strongly that we’re for everyone. We have a site, we have two cafes and a Roastery, and people are able to come and see what we’re doing, rather than it being kept hidden or being only for the experts, or any of that rubbish!

“In the last four or five years, ‘local’ has suddenly become cool”

You work with a lot of local suppliers. Why is that important to you?

I think that local is best because it’s fresher, it travels a much shorter distance, and it makes sense that if you want good quality produce, you want it to be as fresh as possible. We’ve always been very embedded in the local community, but it’s never necessarily been something our customers really cared about. Then in the last four or five years, local has suddenly become cool. The younger generation are asking pertinent questions like ‘Why are we not buying local? Why are we not supporting each other?’. There’s a definite groundswell of people saying, ‘I’m a small business, you’re a small business, let’s help each other out.’

A loose-leaf well tea infusion and roasted coffee beans 

It makes complete sense. We sell tea and coffee, but during this whole pandemic, we decided to also sell produce. We started to get local suppliers approaching us, wanting to sell their produce through us. Just recently, a young lady came to me and said she was making face masks and asked whether we could help her by putting them in our shop. We sat down to have a conversation, and I suggested she make face masks that were tea or coffee-related, so that it had a link to us and we could sell it. That’s where the synergy comes in, when you’ve got an established business with a strong foothold in the community, who uses that to bring in other local businesses. Our baker, our milkman, the man who supplied our eggs, all these people who we bought from for our café, overnight their businesses stopped because everything shut down. So, we offered to sell their products directly to our customers instead. For example, the bread we bought which we would normally turn into toasties, we adapted and sold whole loaves instead. It’s been really interesting to see under these circumstances, the supply chain linking the producer to the wholesaler, to the distributor, to the consumer has been bypassed. Instead, the producers get their produce pretty much straight to customers.

“We also work with the local prison and employ those incarcerated there, and teach them how to make coffee… skills that will be useful when they get released”

You also offer courses, could you talk more about that?

We’ve always supplied our products to restaurants and cafes. We want the cafes we supply to be able to brew a great cup of coffee, since it has our name on it. We decided to offer them our help in training their baristas and the response was very, very positive. So, we did these courses for our trade partners, and then what happened was that people who were coming into our café were saying, ‘I would love to learn more about roasts, or how to make great coffee’. It became so many that we decided to make it into a service and now people can come and do our course, and leave with an official certification.

There’s nothing like freshly roasted and ground coffee

We also work with the local prison, HMP Ford, and we employ those incarcerated there on a day release basis, and teach them how to make coffee, how to prepare food, just skills that will be useful to them when they get released and are looking for employment.

We employ them properly; they get holiday pay and get paid the same rate as the rest of our staff. The only difference is that we pay them through the prison and the prison takes a cut, which they then funnel back into continuing the programme. We’ve been working with them now for 25 years.

“Sustainability is absolutely crucial to us”

You’ve mentioned loose-leaf tea being more sustainable than tea bags. Is that something you consider important in your business?

Sustainability is a really big thing. It’s something we’ve had to work hard for. With tea bags, even if they are compostable, they’re still incredibly wasteful. It’s about all the energy that goes into packing the tea bags and in the factories. With fresh coffee, you have to package it in bags that are not at all environmentally friendly just to keep it fresh. We’ve been grappling for years with that issue. We now have a resale system at our café where people bring back their coffee tin and refill it, rather than using wasteful packaging. It’s very popular. Sustainability is absolutely crucial to us.

Christopher Rendle, the Roastmaster 

Find out more on Edgecumbes’ website.