During this difficult time of the Pandemic, it has been so sad hearing that businesses in the Food & Drink Industry in Wales have suffered terrible losses, and in some cases have had to close their business for good. The coffee culture more than any has been hit badly as a result of the Pandemic, and not just by coffee drinkers like me who have missed their regular flat white.
How uplifting then and like a shaft of light, to hear about one individual who has launched a new coffee in Llanelli which you can purchase online.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Ben Stone of Stonehouse hand crafted coffee beans via a zoom meeting where I asked him about his new product and the back-story.
Ben Stone is a Musical Director, Songwriter and a Professional Musician, who some of you will know having seen him drum for Tom Jones, Leona Lewis, Helene Fischer, Mike & The Mechanics, and in London West End shows to mention but a few!
Ben had been kind enough to send me out a pack of his Ben’s Blend coffee to taste prior to our zoom interview and so it was that I was already a huge fan of his coffee.
I started by asking Ben to tell me a little bit about himself and the story behind Ben’s Blend. What you are about to read now are Ben’s own words.
“I am a professional drummer and songwriter touring the world with different artists. I have always had a big love for food and drink. My travels have given me great opportunity to follow this passion and implement the knowledge gained in my own passion for cooking. My family have been equally involved in music and food professionally which has more than rubbed off on me, and my love for these two things.
In 2012 I was gravely ill through not taking care of myself, fatigue, bad diet and the excesses of the road! I re-took control of my health and discovered juicing through Joe Cross (Fat Sick And Nearly Dead). At Joe’s movie premier in London, I met some inspirational people like Karl Whitfield, a big coffee lover like me. Karl runs Mother Natures Diet and is a seriously knowledgeable guy, when it comes to health, natural food and nutrition. I have attended Karl’s seminars and learned a lot. I was inspired to strive for the best produce and ingredients to maintain optimal health and nutrition. So within a year of being ill I was working hard on my health. I was juicing and cut out all processed food and refined sugar. Three years on from that and no sign of a common cold or other illnesses. I was thankfully healthier than I’d ever been. Hurrah!
I spent some time learning about the effects of processed foods on the body and how mass produced processed foods and intensive agriculture is killing us and the planet. Enter my love for natural food, of which coffee features highly. In every city I visit, I spend time trying to find the best coffee! I realised very quickly after roasting my own that not all coffee is equal.
Fast forward a few years…
On tour in the USA my friend and Saxophone player Francis Walden mentioned that he roasts his own coffee. I’d always wanted to try it. Frank kindly gifted me a kilo of green Ethiopian coffee beans and so I started my journey of roasting coffee. I quickly realised that the coffee I’d been drinking all these years in “high end” coffee shops was far from the best in terms of quality and most importantly, freshness.
Drinking freshly ground coffee within 7 days of roasting is a far superior product and something I wanted more people to experience as it hardly ever happens in coffee shops or with large online roasters. I spent some considerable time testing different temperatures, medium roasts and dark roasts until I settled on what I think is the best roast for my grade 1 Arabica, Sidama Beans. I called it “Ben’s Blend”. It’s not a traditional blend in the common sense of the word. I don’t blend different types of beans together. StoneHouse coffee is single origin which means I use one type of bean from the same crop and blend a dark and medium roast of that bean together (in a secret ratio) to bring out the best sweat complex flavours.”
As Ben was telling me his story, which was laced with an abundance of passion, I felt I was listening to someone who was on a mission. Ben does indeed have a mission and that is to provide us with the best quality coffee delivered within 24 hours of roasting so that you actually benefit from the nutritional value of the coffee, which has a lower level of caffeine.
This I can truly vouch for having sampled my first bag and will be ordering more on a regular basis. I have a rule never to drink coffee after mid-day as I am unable to sleep due to the hyperactivity in my brain. What an amazing discovery therefore that Ben’s Blend can be drunk all day and you would still get a good night’s sleep!
The coffee is creamy and smooth with no bitter after taste. And when it arrives it comes with instructions on how to get the best out of the freshly roasted beans. You warm your cafetière for 5 minutes with boiling water, throw that away and then scoop in your coffee, cover with sufficient amount of freshly boiled water and leave to aerate for 8 minutes before plunging. That way you let the coffee have time to absorb the water, releasing all the wonderful flavours, creating that coffee crema on the top like magic. I suggested to Ben he composes an 8 minute song we could all listen to while we wait for our Ben’s Blend coffee to brew!!! He of course laughed at that but hey! anything is possible so watch this space.
His passion is clear and quite infectious but he is also very humble when he explains that he is no coffee expert in the true sense of a qualified Barista, as he did not really understand the mechanics of a professional coffee machine (yet) and had in fact been given a voucher by his wife to do a barista course, but to date had not found the time to do this because the lockdown had pretty much put a stop to such activities. The Covid 19 situation has meant that as a musician, he has no work on at the minute so lockdown afforded Ben the time to develop this coffee by doing his research and fine tuning his roasting skills. The sleek packaging by the way is very pleasing and evokes the sensual and the casual style of the typeset used for the information again I feel reflects Ben’s creative nature. Like a wave of his drum sticks he draws you into his world.
Ben prefers single origin beans so I was curious about where his beans came from and how he would be able to meet the demand for his coffee as more and more people get to hear about him? He explained that his brother was married to an Ethiopian lady who had contacts in a village where they grow the coffee beans he had been testing. Then he broke off to tell me a lovely story about a Cafe in Addis Ababa which still used the original Italian Coffee machine from the early days and which was still going strong and that he hopes to visit there one day. I am pretty sure that when he does he will return with some new ideas. Returning to our discussion he added that as they have family in Ethiopia a lot of the discussions around coffee came from his brother and sister in law who know a lot of coffee growers.
He admitted that he had discussed with his brother the possibility of dealing directly with one of the families who produce the coffee beans that he likes to use, but sadly this did not come into fruition and so he has now found a supplier in London who sells this particular bean. This means he has a regular supply to meet any future demands on his coffee here in Wales. Great to hear that the supplier in question deals directly with the producer and again that is so vitality important in today’s climate where there are serious imbalances of wealth in relation to food producers and the demands of the market.
I was curious as to what drives Ben and I wanted to know if this passion was out of necessity or was it routed in creativity. Being that he is a musician and song-writter. He said that he likes to cook as well, and putting a restaurant style dish on a plate he likens very much to performing a song or composing a piece of music, the process itself is as important as the end result and that is really where he is coming at it from.
So he sees the whole process of creating the coffee as a product much like if he was to record a song. If he feels that he is proud of it at the end of the process, which needs to be correct, then yes in part it is a creative proses. He did not feel it had come from a necessity even though his own back story might lead you to believe that. It was a rare opportunity here to get a glimpse inside the mind of a truly creative person.
We discussed how as a song writter you might put a song away for a while and then make some further changes here and there. This is exactly how Ben has developed what he considers to be the best taste from the coffee beans, which of course he keeps closely guarded. He admits that it is not really a blend in the true sense of the word. Ben’s Blend is what he was looking for in the flavour. And now we can all get to taste that.
Ben has done copious amounts of testing and spent quite a lot of money tasting a variety of beans before reaching that decision that the beans he now uses are the ones that provide him with the best end results. At the moment the roasting side is more appealing to him but who knows what might inspire him in the future and he is still hoping to do the Barista course and possibly open a Coffee Shop, which his young daughter would love him to do.
Ben’s message, which he feels is not as clear as he had hoped it could be, is that after testing a lot of different coffees from different manufacturers and roasters and having drunk coffee in many different countries and Cities, that a lot of coffee is not actually fresh. If you pick food from your garden then you know that fresh spinach straight out of the garden is completely different to spinach in a bag. So when people say fresh the idea of fresh coffee is something that not many people really know or have ever experienced. So when you taste his blend you can really tell that it is truly fresh posted out to you within 24 hours after roasting. The antioxidants in coffee are high and remain so for a few days after roasting but much of the goodness and nutritional content are lost after a few days so it is best to drink coffee as fresh as you possibly can. That sold it to me without a doubt.
What a pleasure to have been allowed this opportunity to chat with Ben about his coffee and to get an insight into his creative journey. You can order Ben’s Blend directly from his website. Or from his Instagram account. I promise you that you will not be disappointed! And with that in mind I need to leave the last words to Ben ……………….”Coffee is a fresh food and I believe we should treat it as such” Ben Stone
There is a pdf version of this blog available with photographs courtesy of Ben Stone and Leesha Williams